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2020 Summit leaves marginalised youth cold

Lonely youthThe Federal Government's Australia 2020 Youth Summit is touted to bring young people to the table to discuss imperative national issues such as strengthening communities and social inclusion. Sadly, judging by the recently announced summit delegates, it is destined to be a chinwag of the 'haves' while the 'have-nots' are again left in the cold.

When applying, successful candidates needed to demonstrate a history of community engagement and achievements. This automatically excluded marginalised youth whose struggle on society's fringes is precisely due to governments' lack of consultative-based action.

If survival against adversity and other character strengths are not duly recognised by gatekeepers to a national forum, how can real social inclusion of the marginalised ever be achieved?

Unfortunately, this exclusion from the summit is indicative of a broader status quo experienced by this proportion of the nation's youth, many of whom harbour desires to contribute but are crippled by lack of community resources and the wider society's refusal to understand their basic needs.

A clear example of this communication breakdown can be found in our recent discourse surrounding ways to curb the spiralling rates of youth-related violence.

Decreasing the plentiful supply of alcohol and weapons seem to be politicians' preferred remedies, while police are lobbying state governments to rush in extra anti-assembly powers to limit opportunities for teens to congregate in public spaces.

These reactive solutions only reinforce the vicious cycle many angry youth are involved in. Youth prone to joining gangs already have a catalogue of places barring them entry, such as schools, shopping centres, swimming pools and public courtyards. Extra restrictions would only fuel their desire to join fellow disaffected youth in a show of force and solidarity.

In a 2006 study of Ethnic Youth Gangs by the Australian Multicultural Foundation, researchers found that the underlying causes for young people joining 'groups' or 'gangs' are their lack of social opportunities and their need 'for social belonging (such as friendship, support and protection)'.

Similar sentiments drove 'Tony', an illiterate 17-year-old, to join a well-known youth gang in Melbourne's northern suburbs. He described to me how fellow members 'have a lot in common. There is a lot of respect, a lot of multiculturalism and there is no racism.'

Tony's gang initiation had him lying face down in a pool of blood after a savage beating by fellow 'brothers'. He was then ordered to stand unassisted in order to prove he has the 'balls' necessary for membership. The severity of such methods demonstrates the lengths some young people are willing to go to in order to find the acceptance and respect they desperately seek.

These problems cannot be solved solely through controlling alcohol consumption and tightening restrictions. Realistic solutions can only be achieved through employing holistic community approaches that incorporate all sectors of Australian society.

This means police officers must be trained and equipped with the communication skills and cultural awareness necessary to engage with ethnic communities and marginalised youth. The current practice of delegating such duties to boutique teams such as the Multicultural Liaison Unit and Youth Resource Officers is increasingly regarded by community groups as tokenistic.

A new spirit of collaboration needs to sweep through the welfare sector in order to reverse its debilitating culture of mutual distrust between grassroots and mainstream organisations. State and federal governments need to alter their current funding schemes to require authentic community partnerships, coupled with durable, practical outcomes, as key prerequisites for funding allocation. The current heavily bureaucratised emphasis on short-term statistical outcomes has failed to reverse the marginalisation of youth most at risk.

An example of a model initiative is the 2007 Brave program run by Moreland City Council, Victorian Arabic Social Services and Life Saving Victoria. Under the stewardship of youth workers, 12 youth participants designed a program linking them with training and employment opportunities as pool lifeguards. Their current employment at local pools immediately decreased risks of youth tensions as their multi-ethnic peers widely acknowledged them as role models.

The success of this cost-effective program lay in it facilitating marginalised youth to take leadership in addressing their social concerns — something the Australia 2020 Youth Summit fails to do.

Unless marginalised youth are invited as equal partners in discussions promoting social inclusion, such events will be nothing more than a façade, and excluded youth will run the risk of searching for acceptance in wrong directions.

Australia 2020 Youth Summit
Australian Multicultural Foundation: Ethnic Youth Gangs - Do they Exist?


Saeed SaeedSaeed Saeed is a Melbourne writer and youth worker.


Image: Flickr



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Existing comments

You have made some very valid points/observations, Saeed. I also think that your recommendation re including some of the troubled and marginalised youth could prove fruitful.

Maureen T. Couch

Maureen T.Couch | 28 March 2008  

This stuff has been known for years. I worked in disadvantaged schools and nothing has changed for decades ... we are still marginalising our youth. What can be done? I will email Kevin but that isnt always the way to get the breakthrough.

Judy George | 29 March 2008  

Many thanks to Saeed for this insightful article. I am very fearful that, despite its being an improvement on the Howard Coalition Government, the new Labor government lacks any real concern for the most disadvantaged in our society. It has been a long time since our political leaders have committed themselves to greater equity, to striving for the egalitarian ideal. As the major parties have embraced neoliberal ideas, the poor and marginalised are forgotten. I fear that their exclusion will turn to increasing alienation and rage. Not a good prospect for the nation's future. Saeed gives an example that is encouraging and shows how even small measures can achieve improvements. Let us hope, but also strive for more of this kind of positive action. This means those of us who are well off must raise our voices on behalf of the marginalised. We can only hope there will be some voices of this type among the privileged at the summit.

Myrna Tonkinson | 29 March 2008  

Take the case of a young, dark-skinned man with acquired brain injury from homelessness on violent streets, and chronic trauma and depression after being born into a war, and abandoned. He’s jailed, effectively for lack of appropriate accommodation, and family support. He “re-offends” each time he’s “released” as his well-documented problems are never addressed. He’s harassed relentlessly by people in uniform and out. He’s expected to forbear against negative, demeaning and humiliating daily experiences. He strives for redemption – to make amends for injuries he cannot control – but doors slam in his face: he has “a criminal record” and the disproportionate suspicion and checking continues. His heart is broken more each time; he screams everything is against him. He perceives, accurately, it’s not what he does, but who he is that’s locking him into this unbreakable cycle of pain. He’s in this situation due to the very failure of governments to have any idea of what such people most need, and how to do that. Who among the 2020 careerist, CEO and celebrity league spokespeople could imagine a day in this man’s shoes, let alone authentically articulate his needs and the most effective way forward?

Barbara Chapman | 31 March 2008  

Spot on Saeed. Your point regarding the (dis)qualifications for appointment to the Youth Summit is a very constructive addition to the criticism of this forum and deserves to be taken up. The current criteria smack of laziness and conventional thinking in an area that needs fresh ideas, which of course is why the Summit is being proposed.

Luke | 01 April 2008  

Before writing this article or commenting on it has anyone researched whether there is a representative of marginalised youth, with substantial experience and exposure, representing at Youth Summit 2020? If not I completely agree with this point, however, if there is a suitable representative then I think the Youth Summit will be potentially highly beneficial for tackling this problem effectively with a realistic viewpoint.

Richard A | 19 April 2008  

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