This week I had the honour of chairing a meeting with His Royal Highness, The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

He was here to talk to civil society leaders about the Duke of Edinburgh Award being rolled out in the youth justice system in SA. I was extremely impressed by how engaged His Royal Highness was as he took part in a discussion with people who have the capacity to bring real change in our youth justice system. The Prince talked candidly about the positive outcomes of the Duke of Edinburgh award in the youth justice system in other countries. He told stories of the impact of giving these young people an award when often it’s the first time anyone has ever patted them on the back and said ‘well done’ and given them some sense of worth.

The award equips young people to achieve their personal best, learn to take responsibility for goals and choices, become connected to their community and overcome barriers to success. If the award is applied systematically in youth detention centres here it could make a positive difference to those that take part and achieve the award. These young people will learn practical skills for life and values that might keep them from reoffending.

The discussion was significant too in that it was a great opportunity for Ministers and Chief executives and those in the legal system to talk about the problems with our siloed youth justice system. In the room there was a commitment to build a better more cohesive system which had more individualistic outcomes for young people. There was also commitment from all quarters to work on the practicalities of how to set up the framework to bring this pilot scheme to fruition.

Although children and young people involved in youth justice are a very small proportion of the children and young people in SA, these are the kids who need our help and the most support to get them back on the right track. In particular our Aboriginal children and young people who despite steadily falling numbers overall, remain considerably over represented in detention.

Offering the Duke of Edinburgh award is something that would help kids in youth justice connect to positive values and provide not just activities to pass the time but connections to a global community. We want our kids in youth justice to be included and welcomed into the community and believe that they have a place.

As a community we recognise the developmental, psychological, physical and emotional stages of children. Whilst children and young people should be held accountable for their behaviour, we as adults should focus on understanding the difficulties that many of them have experienced, and how this has impacted on their thinking about themselves, the community and their actions. We must respond to their rehabilitation needs with measures that are strong on education, focused on creating and supporting new ways of being involved in community, and building young people’s hope, esteem, resilience and optimism.

The number one thing I have heard time and time again during my conversations with children and young people is that they value learning. It’s even more important for young people who have fallen off the tracks to be given the right to learn new skills and have new experiences. We have to provide opportunities for learning and invite them to engage with programs that offer them opportunities to be included.

This week is also Youth Week and the theme is Your Future — Your Way.

It emphasises the value of young people’s ideas, skills and resilience in local communities and focuses on the benefits that their unique backgrounds, interests, identities and perspectives can bring to us all. Young people are being urged to have a role in shaping their lives and shaping the direction for South Australia. If we ask our young people to lead and to be involved in decisions that affect their lives we end up with engaged and well-rounded citizens. I have hope that many young people who have been in the youth justice system can also realise their full potential and go on to succeed in life with the right help and support from all of us.

Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 20th April 2018