Recommended Resources – The Stringer – Independent News, Investigative Journalism

Mission Australia says we must be ready to help youth

May 6th, 2013

Mission Australia are reporting that young Aboriginal people feel more unsafe in their communities than ever before, and that they are more likely to be at risk from the impacts of alcohol, drugs and gambling than young non-Aboriginal young people. Mission Australia conducts an annual survey of young people, Australia’s most extensive such inquiry.

Despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) consistently reporting that proportion to population more non-Aboriginal people drink when compared to Aboriginal people the Mission Australia survey corroborates the general premise that the most impoverished Aboriginal communities are impacted by alcohol related problems and other social ills and stressors. The ABS reports that 80 per cent of Aboriginal peoples do not consume alcohol but nevertheless there are remote communities heavily impacted by alcohol abuse.

The Mission Australia report also found that while young Aboriginal people are more likely to be looking for work than their non-Aboriginal peers, they are notably less likely to feel they can choose to go university, travel or find a job upon finishing school than the latter group.

The Mission Australia report comes not long after the March report from the United Nations Development Program (UNDEP) Human Development Index which ranked Australia second behind Norway in its annual Index for public health, social wealth, education, even happiness. But if Aboriginal peoples go stand-alone they would not be part of that 2nd rating – they would be 122nd.

Aboriginal peoples in various parts of Australia continue to languish in third-world conditions despite Australia powering on as the world’s twelfth largest economy. The Northern Territory is the worst for Aboriginal peoples but Western Australia’s Kimberley, Western Deserts and the Goldfields and South Austraila’s APY lands are not far behind – and similarly with a number of regions in northern Queensland and mid to western NSW.

More than 640 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, aged 15 to 19  years completed Mission Australia’s 2012 youth survey with the results published for the first time today.

Mission Australia CEO Toby Hall said while differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal young people remain stark, the survey uncovered a number of areas of common ground.

“Unsurprisingly, the results show significant gaps between young Aboriginal non-Aboriginal peoples across employment, education, family and welfare indicators,” said Mr Hall.

The Australian Health and Welfare Institute report also effectively corroborated in its Youth Justice report we are heading in the wrong direction if we are seeking the closing of the gap.

The report found that data from various jurisdictions describes that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, aged 10 to 17, are more likely to become part of the justice system than are their non-Aboriginal counterparts. They are 16 more times likely to be under community supervision and 25 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

Toby Hall, CEO Mission Australia with colleagues in the Northern Territory

Toby Hall, CEO Mission Australia with colleagues in the Northern Territory

Mission Australia’s report reaches into the psyche of its interviewees rather than rely on statistics only and the report does highlight hope. “But encouragingly, there are a number of areas where the two groups share common ground and young Aboriginal people reveal themselves to be both resilient and determined to create a positive future for themselves, their families and communities,” said Mr Hall.

The resilience could be as a result of family relations as seven in ten Aboriginal respondents rated the ability of their family to get along as between excellent and good.

The survey found that one in five young Aboriginal people indicated they did not feel safe in their neighbourhood compared to one in eleven non-Aboriginal young people.

15 per cent of Aboriginal youth surveyed said they felt concerned about drugs as opposed to 8 per cent of non-Aboriginal children. With alcohol, 14 per cent of Aboriginal interviewees were concerned as opposed to 6 per cent non-Aboriginal youth. With gambling it 10.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

Sadly, 74 per cent of Aboriginal youth surveyed felt it less likely that they could choose to go to university as opposed to 45 per cent non-Aboriginal youth.

One in five Aboriginal respondents did not have someone not living with them who they could turn to for support in a time of crisis compared to one in ten non-Aboriginal respondents concluded the Mission Australia survey.

Mr Hall said the results highlighted a number of specific policy areas for attention which may assist young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achieve their future potential.

Mission Australia began compiling separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survey results in 2005, with the Youth Survey first begun in 2002.

“Every year a consistent feature has been, against stereotype, the higher value young Aboriginal people place on finding a job,” said Mr Hall.

“For this reason, the most successful programs at closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal young people are likely to be the ones that harness this determination.”

He described one Queensland program, the federally funded Indigenous Employment Program, from a client group of 35 young Aboriginals, Mission Australia placed 35 into work. “They are still employed, some up to a year later,” said Mr Hall.

“That sort of one hundred per cent success rate is impossible to achieve without taking an approach that recognises the individualised support young Aboriginal people need.”

Mr Hall said the survey results “also uncovered a desire among young Aboriginal people for greater connection with their communities.”

“There is a lack of services available to young Aboriginal people, teenagers in particular.”

“Consider the fact that one in five Aboriginal respondents did not have someone not living with them to turn up for support in a time of crisis compared to one in ten Aboriginal respondents. That reflects young Aboriginal people face a greater degree of isolation than their peers.”

He said the responses indicated the need for a wider range of opportunities, including recreational, to reduce the risk of developing anti-social behaviours.

“And recreation does not just mean sport. Our survey shows that young Aboriginal people are involved in arts and cultural activities, youth clubs and environmental groups at a greater level than non-Aboriginal young people.”

“They also participate in similar numbers in volunteering, student leadership and religious groups.”

He said the survey reflected clear evidence that Aboriginal youth will seek out opportunities for various engagements if they are availed to them.

Mr Toby found hope itself as Aboriginal youth’s greatest hope – “More than two thirds were positive about the future while only 11 per cent were negative. The remaining 22 per cent were neither.”

This is important because 36.6 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are younger than 15 years of age. Despite Aboriginal peoples comprising less than 3 per cent of the Australian population, Aboriginal youth, that is under 18 years of age, comprise 5 per cent of the Australian population according to the ABS.

“As more Aboriginal children enter their teens, we must be ready to help them reach their full potential,” said Mr Hall.

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