Victorian government withdraws funding for Melbourne youth crime prevention program

Victorian government withdraws funding for Melbourne youth crime prevention program

Hundreds of young people at risk of reoffending will miss out on a key youth crime prevention program after the Victorian Government cut a third of its funding.

The Youth Advocacy and Support Service (YSAS) provides early intervention support for at-risk young people aged 10-17 who have had recent contact with the police, as part of the state’s youth crime prevention programme, Support Service to Youth (YSS).

This year’s Victorian budget cut $1.85 million from the program, meaning 11 YSAS workers will lose their jobs after June 30.

Despite post-budget discussions between YSAS and the state government last week, which took place after the ABC contacted the government with questions about funding, the organization was ultimately told the money could not be found.

YSAS estimates that the funding cut will deny help to 330 at-risk youth and their families each year.

“Right now we have 54 young people in the west and 112 young people across Melbourne waiting for a service, and they’re not getting it,” YSAS chief executive Andrew Bruun said.

A man sits in the office while looking seriously at the camera.

YSAS chief executive Andrew Bruun said more than 150 young people were waiting to access its crime prevention programme.(ABC News: Leanne Wong)

Mom says YSAS helped her son avoid jail

Kath*, a mother from Melbourne, was introduced to YSAS after Victoria Police referred her 15-year-old son, Henry*, to the program following his arrest for an alleged home invasion last year.

“I never imagined my son doing that,” Kath said.

“He always went to school, he always came home, but one day he just didn’t come home. And I had a feeling something was wrong.

“So when the detectives came, that’s when my heart sank.”

Kath is still devastated by her son’s arrest and agonizes over how and why he got into trouble.

Henry has yet to open up to her about the alleged home invasion, except to tell her that he didn’t want to be there and that he had followed her to “protect” his friends, who were also arrested and charged.

Kath said Henry has spent the last five months working with YSAS worker Tracy Courtney, which has been invaluable.

She said her son was now re-engaging with school and starting to apply for part-time jobs, while participating in a youth diversion program.

He also found a new friendship group.

“He can’t talk to me, even though I’m his mother. He can’t talk to his brothers, but he opens up to Tracy. She knows a lot more about him than I do,” Kath said.

“If she hadn’t come into his life when she did, he’d probably be in Parkville (the juvenile justice district) now.”

Tracy Courtney is one of 11 YSAS workers who will lose their jobs next month.

YSAS helps thousands of young people for more than a decade

Since 2011, the YSAS program has involved more than 10,600 young people, and evaluations by Swinburne University’s Center for Forensic Behavioral Sciences and KPMG found it reduced their involvement with the police and youth justice system.

The cut funding comes as YSAS struggles to meet demand in Melbourne, with recent crime statistics showing a rise in youth crime.

The number of suspected offenders aged between 10 and 17 reached its highest level in almost a decade last year, with almost 22,000 registered by the Crime Statistics Agency in 2023.

YSAS worker Tracy Courtney says “it’s maxed out.”

“We try to work with as many young people as we can, but there is definitely a big need for more youth and family workers in the area of ​​crime prevention,” he said.

Courtney works exclusively in Melbourne’s west with families like Kath and Henry, and currently has 15 clients on her books.

Their work often involves engaging young people in returning to school, finding them services such as alcohol and drug counseling and support, and involving them in recreational activities such as sport.

A woman looks seriously at the camera.

Tracey Courtney will lose her job at the end of next month.(ABC News: Leanne Wong)

Despite being told her job would no longer exist next month, Courtney said she was more concerned about what it would mean for her clients and said she would spend the next few weeks trying to refer them to other workers.

“A lot of them have been low-income families, single-parent families that are struggling… There could also be some situations where there is family violence,” Ms Courtney said.

“For some young people, it’s about finding a sense of belonging.”

The state government says it is not a funding cut

The Victorian Government has denied that YSAS has received a funding cut, claiming the organization received additional funding during the pandemic as a one-off top-up.

“YSAS does extremely important work and we continue to fund their work, with more than $3 million to keep vulnerable young people out of trouble,” a government spokesperson said.

“We have provided more than $100 million for programs and initiatives that address the underlying causes of crime, with a strong focus on keeping our children and youth out of the criminal justice system.”

Aware , updated