Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s new Youth Services Co-ordinator is all about delivering outcomes for the region’s youth. No ifs, buts or maybes, the programs Luke Wallace wants to bring forward will all have some benefit for young people.
“They will be meaningful programs that support all our young people. Like Vibefest (the annual youth music festival) which gave youth performing, administration and stage management skills, they will be outcomes focused, have a purpose and work towards building confidence and delivering practical skills,” Luke said.
The 11-year youth worker veteran has come to Goulburn Mulwaree Council from a similar position on Queanbeyan-Palerang Council. Before that, Luke worked with Fusion Australia in Canberra, has worked overseas as a volunteer in Greece and Jamaica, and has done the hard yards as a youth caseworker.
He’s currently working on a youth strategy and plan for Goulburn Mulwaree which is informed by research, on the main areas youth services should address.
“The research has identified that educational and job-ready programs are needed. Some also find it hard to make friends and so our community centre offers that safe space. We’ll be looking at a good variety of programs in the future,” Luke said.
Council has just finished delivering a school holiday program in the October break, the first of its kind for Goulburn.
“The program offered meaningful activities for older youth and we’ll be delivering another in the Christmas holidays with maybe a trip to the coast, and the opportunity to surf, and something like laser tag in Canberra. We want to offer free or low-cost activities and give them a fun time.”
Mental health is another area for focus that has been identified by Luke’s research. Pressures of sitting the Higher School Certificate, the challenges of the 24/7 social media environment and online gaming are showing up – issues which are not just endemic to Goulburn, but nationwide.
“Young people can be bullied in online gaming chat rooms and at school, and it’s sad because there is no escape.”
Unfortunately, self-harm and youth suicide are above the national average, and engaging with youth mental health service Headspace in Goulburn and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (acute mental health services) will be priorities for Luke.
“There is a gap between what Headspace can offer and acute mental health services. If you are in that gap you have to go through the private health sector,” he said.
The Goulburn Mulwaree youth strategy will include a 12-18 month action plan, backed by research and, in the near future, consultation with youth and the community. Luke has already consulted with youth services in the region.
One of the issues identified has been the lack of safe spaces for youth. Goulburn Mulwaree Council is addressing that partly through its new Community Centre, however, a dedicated youth centre will be the target of further research.
“We will need to look at who is going to run it and what will be delivered through a youth centre,” Luke said.
An area for effort will be creating education and training pathways. Luke brings experience from Queanbeyan-Palerang where he helped set up a coffee shop in the library. Young people were able to gain hospitality skills and a partnership with a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) provided training credentials, enabling youth to gain practical experience and a qualification for future job opportunities.
Drug and alcohol issues are comparative to other areas in Australia, however, homelessness is an issue in the region which may not necessarily be showing up in the statistics. “We are seeing a lot of ‘couch surfing’ which is not picked up in the stats,” Luke said.
Goulburn Mulwaree has an MOU with Headspace to deliver programs in high schools and after school. They also collaborate with the local PCYC to deliver the ‘Fit for Life’ program which has been overwhelmingly successful.
“Every Monday, 35 plus local kids are picked up at 6 am. They do a boxing class and we give them breakfast and a packed lunch and take them to school. If they stay at school, they stay in the program. We’ve had great outcomes so far and kids who haven’t been attending school are now staying the whole day,” Luke said. “These programs where we all go out of normal working hours to help have the best impact because we show them we care.”
Creative and performing art programs will also be looked at, and some of these activities are already being delivered by the council. The library runs a writing class and there is potential to work with council’s regional gallery on art-based programs.
“We’ll also be looking at music; writing raps for example because it gives young people a voice.”
Working with the community to acknowledge that young people have a lot to offer, mentoring and role model initiatives are all on the agenda. “Young people are our future and we need to invest in them. Goulburn Mulwaree Council is committed to youth; they’ve funded me full-time in this position.
And for parents who may be struggling with teenagers, Luke has some simple and practical advice. “Just being there, being present, and letting them know you are there, is important.”