A holistic approach to rising youth offending rates

News, Prevention & Strengthening | Posted June 12, 2024
A holistic approach to rising youth offending rates

Recent data reveals a troubling trend in youth crime, with the number of juvenile offenders in Australia rising for the first time in over a decade. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data, obtained by the ABC, indicates a 6% increase in youth crime in the last financial year. Even more concerning, recidivism among young offenders is also on the rise, signalling potential shortcomings in current diversion programs.

This uptick in youth crime is exacerbating existing ideological tensions over how to address juvenile crime. Policymakers are caught in a complex dilemma; balancing a law-and-order approach with a more compassionate, child welfare-focused strategy. Communities affected by high crime rates are demanding immediate action to restore safety to their neighbourhoods, while advocates for a more supportive approach argue that many young offenders are victims of systemic failures long before their first arrest.

Some families are choosing to leave their crime-ridden areas, seeking safer environments. On the other hand, there’s a growing recognition that punitive measures alone cannot address the root causes of youth crime. Many young offenders suffer from undiagnosed neurological impairments and have been exposed to violence, poverty and substance abuse from an early age. These underlying issues point to the necessity of a more nuanced approach to solving juvenile crime.

In response to the growing crisis, programs like OzChild’s Putting Families First (PFF) offer a beacon of light. Operating in Melbourne’s Brimbank-Melton area and Goulburn region, PFF provides grassroots, community-driven approach aimed at keeping families together and supporting them to overcome the challenges they face. 

PFF’s holistic support system addresses the needs of families involved with the justice system by focusing on several key areas: 

  • Building Family Skills: PFF helps families develop the skills necessary to improve relationships and foster a supportive home environment. This includes parenting support and conflict resolution strategies. 
  • Improving School Attendance: Ensuring that children regularly attend school is vital for their long-term success. PFF works with families to identify and overcome barriers to education, promoting consistent attendance. 
  • Securing Housing: Stable housing is a critical component of family well-being. PFF assists families in finding and maintaining secure housing, reducing the stress and instability that can contribute to criminal behaviour. 
  • Community Connection: By connecting families to their community, PFF helps them build a supportive network. This includes linking them to training and employment opportunities, which are essential for breaking the cycle of disadvantage. 
  • Promoting Health: Improving both child and parental health is central to PFF’s mission. The program emphasises reducing offending behaviour by addressing health issues, including mental health and substance abuse. 
  • Cultural Sensitivity and Self-Determination: Recognising the diverse backgrounds of the families they serve, PFF works with cultural sensitivity and promotes self-determination. This approach ensures that support is tailored to the unique needs of each family. 

Improving family relationships, securing stable housing, promoting education and connecting families to their communities are all vital components of a successful strategy. Moreover, by addressing health issues and working with cultural sensitivity, PFF ensures that families receive comprehensive support tailored to their needs. 

In addition to the Putting Families First initiative, OzChild’s Multisystemic Therapy (MST) program plays a pivotal role in addressing the complexities of youth offending. MST is an evidence-based intervention designed to provide intensive support to families with young people displaying severe antisocial behaviour, those engaged in criminal activity and recidivism. The holistic nature of MST ensures that all aspects of a young person’s environment are considered, promoting positive changes that can lead to lasting improvements in behaviour and family dynamics. 

The integration of MST and community-driven programs like Putting Families First represents a robust approach to combating youth crime. And as many policymakers grapple with rising youth crime rates and the constant debate over the best approach to juvenile justice, these early intervention programs offer a promising path forward.  

By focusing on holistic, preventative measures, we can support young people and their families, reducing youth offending in a sustainable and compassionate manner along the way. But ensuring the success of these programs requires a commitment to addressing the systemic issues that contribute to youth crime, and a willingness to invest in the long-term wellbeing of our communities from the Government. 

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