Young people in the ACT are at risk of falling through the cracks

News, Prevention & Strengthening | Posted June 10, 2022
Young people in the ACT are at risk of falling through the cracks

Young people who are involved in the youth justice system in the ACT are at risk of falling through the cracks as the ACT Government fails to invest in early intervention service.

The Blueprint for Youth Justice in the ACT 2012-2022 (the Blueprint) provides the strategic direction for youth justice and focuses on keeping young people out of the youth justice system to create a safer and more inclusive community and prevent a lifetime of offending.

Yet the ACT Government has not committed to funding OzChild’s Functional Family Therapy – Youth Justice (FFT-YJ) program past August 2022.

Not only has this specialist, evidence-based early intervention program consistently delivered positive outcomes for young people and families, but FFT-YJ specifically addresses a gap in services for adolescents.

Then there are the potential cost savings for ACT taxpayers. FFT is internationally tried and tested with a benefit to cost ratio of US $18.75 and 100% chance benefits will exceed costs[1].

The FFT model has received international recognition for its outcomes in helping troubled youth and their families to overcome delinquency, substance abuse, and violence.

“It seems incomprehensible that a program aimed specifically at reducing the criminal activity of young people would be overlooked when the government has previously committed to focus on keeping young people out of the youth justice system to create a safer and more inclusive community and prevent a lifetime of offending.

Especially at a time when there is increasing demand for services to support young people engaging in antisocial and illegal patterns of behaviour.”

– Dr Lisa J. Griffiths, OzChild’s Chief Executive Officer

The benefits of this program speak loudly for the critical need to invest in this early intervention, for families, young people and the wider community.

In the short-term, family members will experience:

  • Less conflict
  • Improved communication
  • Young person will better manage their behaviours, including violence in the family
  • Young people are more motivated and become more adaptive and successful in their own lives.

In the long-term, a young person will be less likely to:

  • Reoffend
  • Misuse substances
  • Leave their family
  • Be absent from school.

For the wider community:

  • Reduction in crimes and victimization in communities
  • Reduced taxpayer funded expenditure by governments on social services to support young people engaging in antisocial and illegal patterns of behaviour
  • Prevent greater future cost to government, communities and families.

In February 2021 Minister for Justice Health and Assistant Minister for Families and Community Services, Emma Davidson announced the launch of the FFT youth justice pilot program to prevent young people entering the justice system in the ACT.

Upon doing so the Minister was quoted in the Canberra Times (8 February 2021) saying “FFT is a successful evidence-based program that achieves results for children and young people by working closely with their families to reduce the intergenerational effects of sustained contact with the justice system.”

Also quoted in The Canberra Times the Chief Police Officer for the ACT, Neil Gaughan identified inter-generational crime as a significant territory issue, observing that his officers are now arresting the grandchildren of those family members that he arrested 30 years ago when he first walked the beat as a ACT community police officer.

“As a community, we have got to get ahead of this persistent issue,”

While at the back end, it’s law enforcement problem, at the front end there are many other things that have to be looked at holistically in that discussion; that’s disadvantage of many kinds, it’s housing, health, education and welfare.”

– Deputy Commissioner Gaughan.

In the one year since the program launched OzChild’s FFT-YJ team have accepted 37 referrals for young people into the program from across the ACT. Of these to date there have been 12 young people completed the program, 11 are currently in treatment and four are at the intake stage.

Given this program is a whole of family treatment, the 15 young people, their families, which includes 27 siblings and parents who are currently receiving service or are at intake will, within eight weeks lose this intervention if funding is not secured.

This should make taxpayers worry, it is essential that the government appropriately fund services that can achieve real change in the lives of these young people and their families’. Lack of intervention now will lead to greater future costs to government.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics

There were 260 offenders aged between 10 and 17 years in 2020–21, comprising 12% of total offenders in the Australian Capital Territory.

The offender rate was higher among youth when compared with the total Australian Capital Territory offender population with:

  • 645 youth offenders per 100,000 persons aged between 10 and 17 years
  • 593 total offenders per 100,000 persons

Almost a third (31%) of youth offenders had a principal offence of acts intended to cause injury (80 offenders).[2]


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