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Access to high quality services and transport
All young people should have support to become independent.
We want a service system which connects young people to opportunities, cares for them when they need help, and makes sure they have a real voice in their community. Our service system should be accessible to all young people, whatever their needs and wherever they live.
At present, we don’t have this system. Nearly 30% of young Victorians don’t agree that they have a trusted adult in their lives, and many communities are struggling to support their young people. Delivering services to young people is especially challenging in rural communities, due to very limited resources and the costs of distance and outreach. Meanwhile, interface council areas and regional centres must meet the needs of large young populations who face higher than average levels of disadvantage.
Furthermore, young people cannot access services and opportunities if they don’t have proper transport. Recently, there has been substantial, welcome investment in Victoria’s public transport, but ongoing work is needed. For example, 31.5% of Victorians with a disability have difficulty using public transport, and 13.9% cannot use any public transport. Meanwhile many families on low incomes are concentrated in areas where public transport and 'walkability' are poor and transport costs are high. Only 57% of people in Melbourne’s interface council areas live near public transport, compared to 98.8% of people in the inner suburbs. Sixty one per cent of unemployed young Australians have no driver’s license, and a quarter of unemployed young people describe transport problems as a barrier to finding work.
To give young people the best start in life, we need to transform Victoria’s service system.
In particular, we call for stronger investment in youth work, to help build neighbourhoods that are great places for all young people. Youth workers are unique professionals who build trust and understanding between young people, their families and communities.
Youth workers work with young people both individually and in groups, and in many settings, including schools, local government, youth justice, and health services. They help young people to:
- Make informed, age-appropriate choices about important things like education, work, health, housing and relationships.
- Overcome challenges, like mental health issues or unemployment.
- Maximise opportunities, like becoming independent, playing a leadership role in the community, building skills, and expressing creativity.
Youth workers are experts in youth participation and building strong, welcoming neighbourhoods. They bring together services, schools, businesses, faith communities, police and local government to plan communities where all young people can connect, contribute and thrive. They uphold young people’s rights and promote young people’s achievements. They work holistically with young people, taking into account everything that’s happening in the young person’s life, and building relationships with young people who don’t trust services or don't have a trusted adult in their lives.
According to the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition’s National Definition of Youth Work, youth work is a practice that “places young people and their interests first… where the youth worker operates alongside the young person in their context. Youth work is an empowering practice that advocates for and facilitates a young person’s independence, participation in society, connectedness and realisation of their rights.” In Victoria, youth workers are expected to follow the Code of Ethical Practice for the Victorian Youth Sector.
Unfortunately, many youth work interventions are being held back by reliance on small grants of three years or less, and by competitive tendering processes. Establishing a new program often takes six months; if this must be repeated every two or three years, there is a significant loss of productivity, impact and experienced staff. Frequently reapplying for (modest) funds places a drain on rural services, in particular, where the teams are smaller. Meanwhile, competitive tendering limits the capacity of services to work in close partnerships, and tends to advantage large, metropolitan-based providers, even if they don’t have the outreach models or local relationships to work well with isolated or specific communities.
Youth service delivery can also be held back by funding structures which don’t recognise the real costs of rural and regional service delivery, and the need for experienced, qualified workers on the ground. Programs and infrastructure are not enough; communities need trusted, local workers in place for the long term. Services also need to be able to work flexibly to meet local needs in relation to diversity, disadvantage, and isolation.
In addition, we must address the rising pressure on youth services to respond to the needs of children aged 8-12. There is a shortage of services for these children, many of whom are seeking to connect with youth services, because their families trust the services, and/or because the children are experiencing issues once associated with teenagers.
Youth services are also filling gaps in relation to transport access, by delivering the valued L2P learner driver mentor program. L2P provides 120 hours’ driving practice with a trained mentor for young people up to the age of 21 who don’t have access to a car or a supervising driver. L2P mentors also provide personal support for young people, helping them connect with opportunities for employment and education, and build 'work-ready' qualities like time-keeping, confidence, English conversation and social skills. L2P has been embraced all around Victoria, especially in isolated communities where car dependence is very high.
However, many L2P programs have long waiting lists, and the funding structure cannot cover the full operational costs. L2P coordinators must find sponsorship and use the resources of their host organisations. In some communities, this seriously limits the program’s capacity. Rural communities, in particular, often struggle to cover the costs, given their scarce resources, the vast distances they must cover, and the strain on vehicles.
Meanwhile, there are young people who are ineligible for L2P, but who need comparable support to become safe and independent drivers. They include young people whose parents have a vehicle but lack the skills and confidence to teach them to drive, and young people over the age of 21 who are facing transport disadvantage. The latter group include newly-arrived young people, young parents, young people with disability, and young people living with serious disadvantage.