LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir, Our community’s problem with alienated youth is not just an Alice Springs problem or a Territory problem. It is a deeply troubling situation right across northern Australia, and indeed in other parts of our nation.
The Kimberley, Cape York, to some extent the APY Lands and most regional towns across northern Australia from Townsville to Broome have been grappling with similar issues for years, decades.
It is a national shame that deserves the same level of national and community attention as domestic violence is beginning to receive.
Because the truth is that as a society we do not know how to deal with it. Its roots are so deep and its symptoms so broad that no single family, community, or indeed state or territory can achieve substantial success on its own.
So many dedicated grandparents and parents, skilled youth workers and youth leaders, teachers and police as well as community members are putting in enormous effort and do achieve success for some kids some of the time. Aboriginal and youth organisations do what they can within the resources available.
But the problems still exist, and as a society we must do so much better.
A national approach does not mean simply pushing the blame onto the national government, although it certainly has a role that it is currently shirking.
Rather a national approach will share successes and failures across state borders; will sponsor creative solutions and will be rigorous about evaluation. It will be led by Aboriginal voices and driven by local needs and solutions. It will be fuelled by shared expertise and knowledge, better training, great ideas, and professional support and recognition for the leaders and workers in the field.
Setting a national agenda and Closing the Gap targets would draw attention to this national problem. But we need to guard against the heavy hand of too much bureaucracy and ensure that Aboriginal youth and their families and communities can contribute to the solutions. It will be critical to harness the energy and ideas of communities such as Alice Springs.
Alice Springs would be the ideal place to set up a Centre for Excellence in Youth Practice.
Much as our hospital is the training ground for so many health professionals from throughout Australia, this centre would train family and youth workers from across the nation.
It could sponsor the very best in family and community-led solutions. It could run youth and peer leadership programs and immediately get skilled, focused attention on today’s eight to 12 year olds and their families as a priority.
Aboriginal teachers would ensure that workers in the field understand how to work across cultures and in remote areas.
We need communities, leaders and all levels of governments to share a sense of urgency, the confidence to be bold, the resilience to try, try and try again and a commitment to be in it for the long term.