Author & Researcher Delphine Jamet
- For the CHASE CREW -

Mission Australia On Track Interview (2003)



What does your service offer?

Sandra:           We’re a safe after-hour service for at risk young people.

John:                We are an alternative environment to police for kids. We work 6 to 4 in the mornings. But we’re the only specific community services currently working in the inner city.

Sandra:            After kids are brought in, we actually do follow up. John goes and visits people at home and discuss things with the family as well. So that’s part of our service as well.


Do any of your workers work on the streets?

John:                It’s not a set thing but we do it sometimes. It’s a random thing.


What are the biggest problems you face with children and their lives?

John:                Probably to some levels, families that are not coping to well at home. There’s a lot of relationships the parents are having so the kids have different stepfathers that come into the home where they are. Sometimes they don’t get on with those people so there’s conflict. They tend to move out. Bear in mind, most of the people we have are aboriginal – 84%. They go into this conflict and then move in and stay with their families. Stability is probably the biggest issue here, young people’s stability and relationships are a big thing.

Sandra:            I guess another problem facing kids, obviously is substance abuse. We do get substance abusers in here.


How often do you find a parent that does not care for their child?

John:                I find it’s not a case of caring for their child. I find it’s probably a case because they are very limited in support, probably from their historical point. They don’t tend to use non-aboriginal support systems. I find that’s a big issue. On another level, a lot of these people have their own issues, parent and family issues too. It’s either substance or something they use at home. It’s all these dynamics at home. It’s not a case of not saying they don’t care, so that’s probably the definition of it all.


Is it often you find a parent to be a drug user?

John:                Roughly on a guess, don’t quote me on this in a sense, but I’d sort of say that maybe about 50% we have an issue with substance or somewhat at home.


Are many kids interested in getting an education?

John:                Same thing applies here. They won’t access support until it comes in under their jurisdiction of the community development in case management level and when the education department becomes involved too because of truancy. Juvenile Aid Group will work with us in this partnership. They’re on the street every day and night except for Sunday. We’re are limited in what we can do because of resources as we are a very small team. We can only pick up on the weekends but they are out there picking on a lot of truancy as well. There’s a lot of truancy out there. Some of these young people haven’t been  . . . when I’ve been into the homes, I’ve found some haven’t been going to school for a period, I think the longest was three years. And others – six to eight months, it varies a lot but there are high numbers in truancy.


How many children on average do you have in on a Friday or Saturday night?

Sandra:            They seem to go up and down.

John:                That varies a lot. It depends on the police and if they’re staffed on a high level other than when JAG is involved and when they have put down some special operations because of something that’s happening in the city and there will be a lot more units and the numbers will obviously come high. But on a general Friday and Saturday night, we tend to have seven or eight on those nights, probably more on a Friday night than a Saturday night. Wednesday’s would probably have one or two and eight to ten come in on Thursday.

Sandra:            But then it depends again on the operations.

John:                Outside of JAG’s control.


Average age and youngest age?

John:                Youngest age was fourteen months. The oldest we tend to cover zero to 18. From 16 to 18, if there’s no substance use visible from behaviour as the police interpret it, because they have to at risk, we would not tend to take them if they were straight. The youngest fourteen months as I said, at that time, we picked up on a lot of six to nine year olds. With that, we also had a call group that were initially targeted and they covered a group of young people from 23-28 in numbers. That would be slipping through the gaps of the mandatory services such as Family & Children’s Services or DSD, Ministry of Justice and probably Community Service people as well. That was why On Track was set up – to pick up on these 23-28 young aboriginals. Two months On Track been going on. The core group does exist, they don’t change faces. I like to call it Duty of Care, rather than Custodial Care. The police officer determines whether this young person is at risk, in their definition. They have the power to detain them and access them to give them back to their parent or guardian.


Do they become violent when they don’t want to be helped?

John:                There’s a lot that express a bit of anger and rage because they’ve been picked up, they haven’t done anything wrong – as they see it. But rage and anger seem to come out.


Are many drug users?

John:                When we set up three years ago, we dealt with a lot of solvent users. Paints, solvents, one case of metho. Solvents are coming back in but alcohol’s always been there. It’s used by this prime group. Mainly females aged 10-14 Aboriginal. They see the police as the enemy, we have a presence when they are brought in. We advocate and mediate on their behalf. We’ve been set up to cut off the entry into the justice system by young people. Otherwise it’s a label you’ll carry for the rest of your life. It’s harder to gain employment, so it’s very relevant that we step in.


Most common drug?

John:                Alcohol and solvents are big. Probably more solvents but alcohol’s right up there. We’ve had a couple of young people brought in with heroin but the number’s are very low over a period of three years. Amphetamines – a couple and young people were probably using other stuff that wasn’t disclosed.


How can it be stopped – using drugs?

John:                If there was a way, I wouldn’t be working here. There are a lot of Aboriginal agencies that need to be involved. They are very reluctant to enlist non-aboriginal programs, it’s a cultural thing – them and us issue. We can’t talk about time frames when we talk about supporting people. You need to have a long period of time for them. No one has the answers.


Main reason a child hangs around the streets at night?

Sandra:            I think a lot of young people come into the city at night time for one, because all the other young people are doing it – it’s a big thing. And also because, in  their own communities, their obviously isn’t enough there for young Aboriginal people, that’s why they all gather in the city.

John:                Probably because of the peer pressure thing. We are family orientated. Our strong connections with each other at some level and there is nothing in the area, towns or where they come from. Their environment should also be better than what it is. Northbridge – it attracts moths to a flame.

Sandra:            And they have a right to be here as well as anyone else.

John:                Under these Acts, they have a certain time when they have to make their way home. That’s the issue.


Main problems they face on the streets?

John:                The police have a right to detain them and the kids see this as a threat. It doesn’t have anything to do with being Aboriginal. The police need to understand these things and we try and help out.

Sandra:            In their groups, sometimes they can have some family feuding and need to fight – that’s a problem as well.

John:                Young people are trying to form a relationship with the opposite sex and that causes conflict anyway. A lot of things can happen in Northbridge – stabbings. Aboriginals don’t get on too well with the Asians. Some of the kids are very young.


How often are they a runaway?

John:                In our experience, it’s only what we learn from our networking – walking around in our meal breaks and the networks we talk to like the Noongar Patrol, some youth services. We find that there’s about three in the last six months – it’s not a great rate. Those three can have 3-4 episodes.

Sandra:            When they do runaway, they are reported missing by their parents.

John:                Historically again, aboriginal people are reluctant to go to police, so there could be a lot more.


How do you feel about children who come from rough families with a large number of siblings and drug using parents?

John:                I’ll treat them like any other kid. I respect them, I’ll support them in their immediate needs, I do all those things that I would do with any other kid. I don’t judge them. I tend to look at the parents – so I sort of deal with it on the level of their parents.

Do you think many of the children that come in are victims of child abuse?

John:                I believe there are some that have. We, aboriginal people, try and deal with it in some kind of form but it doesn’t work.


Do you think police officers care much about the children that roam around the streets at night?

John:                Our partners do actually care about these kids. They’re very exceptional and very unique. These JAG officers are very good at what they do.

Sandra:            I think it’s important to remember, that’s why they are picked up by the police to begin with. Their concerns with their welfare. I think just to know the police have established a special group for the juveniles called the Juvenile Aide Group, that sort of answers that question for you.

John:                They’ve very important.


What can be done about Perth’s Aboriginal gang problem?

John:                I tend not to use gang. Gangs are ostrocated – organised. Aboriginals are not organised. Gangs are a bad word to use. High numbers of young people anywhere, whoever wherever they are, are an issue for people. When they’re seen in high numbers together, they are seen as a threat and labelled a gang. They just hang out. With their peers and friends and it’s quite normal. With the Aboriginal issue, it’s a double whammy.


Will there ever be a decrease in the number of children roaming the streets at night?

John:                I don’t think this is a curable program but we’re just trying to stop them from getting into the justice system. The two objectives – Cut off the young people that come from here into the justice system by mediation. If their behaviour is a bit high, they can still be charged. Because they are not being case managed and they need to be picked up.


Should the police impose a definite curfew for teenagers under the age of 18?

John:                No. We’ve been down that path when we were being separated and taken off the streets. At 6 years old, I wasn’t allowed out on the streets at any time. I didn’t have an ID card saying I was allowed on the streets, so we don’t want to go back down there. We deal 85% with Aboriginals and this is not an Aboriginal program. Young people have the right to be on the streets, just like anyone else have.

Sandra:            Would a curfew actually work anyway? I see some kids on a 7-7 curfew with the Ministry of Justice but they still come out.

John:                It would just cause a lot more problems. Kids are going to be kids.


What is the best way to control juvenile crime?

John:                Probably through something like this (them). They need to be supported. They get a lot of cautions through MOJ but if we can talk to them on their level – people are going to do these things anyway. Their actions have consequences. Give them enough information, support them, help with their self-esteem, ask them what they want to do. Let them have control. Boredom leads to crime, violence and substance abuse. You need to empower young people.


How many rough streetkids are interested in going back to school?

John:                I have found a few that have gone back to school – I don’t know the figures. I’ve heard some good outcomes when I’ve visited them at home. It’s a start.


Do many feel they have no hope in life and don’t care about the future?

John:                Because of the low self-esteem of these kids, they have no goals, objectives, they see no opportunity for employment even if they have an education. Historically because of the past – these other things have happened to and it takes several generations to get rid of that. There never be used to be such things as the dole and the kids are picking up on that. Lack of training. Racism – still wide and kicking, sex racism – a lot of thing. All those things are at play here that these kids don’t have to deal with. Non aboriginal have the same issues to but there aren’t the same numbers.


Are they always taken in by a police officer?

Sandra:            Yes. But we’ve had a couple of young people actually presented themselves to JAG. There is that relationship built with the police.


What can make children more interested in the future?

Sandra:            Support and they need to be given competence. That they’re not stupid, encouragement.

John:                Traineeship programs – nothing formulated and formal. Young people have the ideas. Not consulting them but actually doing it. It builds the self esteem, attain goals and objectives. Police trying to set up cadets – like the army. Some are designated leaders.


What can the public do?

Sandra:            Stop judging them or separating young people from the community. If they want to get young people out of crime or drug abuse, involve them in the community. Dissipation in the community is a really big thing. More culturally appropriate people.

John:                Be a lot more supportive and not so critical. Public try to go back to when they were kids, they weren’t born adults. Need to acknowledge that and be supportive.


Do you interact much with other agencies?

Sandra:            Yes in terms of our own network. Noongar Patrol, NASAS, Kolara, JAG. We attend different network meetings and talk to other people like Juvenile Justice Network.


More youth events on Fri or Sat night?

Sandra:            Usually targeting main stream people, costing money, a lot of young people won’t go to. Bridge need to be broken with aboriginal young people. An event would be good – keeping young people occupied. Culturally appropriate. Need to welcome them into the community. If a curfew came in, it would mean they would have to pick up every young person. Using so many resources – then who’s going to look after all the other areas?

John:                More structured events. Give the kids of the role of managing it.


Any last comments?

John:                Empowering people. Let’s not just talk about it.