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Minister hears powerful youth voices at Meli launch

“What if young people at risk of involvement in the justice system had a voice?” That’s the question asked as part of a new project launched in Geelong on Wednesday 5 April.

Minister for Police, Crime Prevention & Racing Anthony Carbines launched the Reignite Geelong Client Voice Project at the Gordon Avenue offices of Meli, Geelong’s largest community services and kindergarten provider (formerly BCYF and Bethany).

Meli CEO Grant Boyd welcomed the Minister, local MPs and special guests to the new organisation’s first official event, explaining its goal was to provide help for people at every stage of life, especially young people who face many challenges.

Youth Services Manager Mandy Baxter said Meli supports some of the most vulnerable young people our community and highlighted the wide-reaching impact of its programs.

“The Geelong Reignite Project has supported young people colliding with the youth justice system, their experience of life not always opportune or fair. Systems often too wide or high for true inclusion, or equity. Their voice often muffled. Their champions lacking,” Ms Baxter explained.

She said an independent report commissioned by the Department of Justice and Community Safety showed re-offending among those who participated in the project halved, from 92 per cent pre-program to 46 per cent post-program.

“I reflect on this finding, and I know it’s because for a period of time our team became the champions and maintained the narrative of YES you can. And our young people did the rest.”

The powerful and compelling Client Voice Project is aimed at elevating the voices of young people involved in, or at risk of involvement in, the justice system. Twelve young people supported by Meli’s Youth Services team shared ideas on how to ensure their voices could be heard.

Young people revealed they did not feel that they had a voice, and if they did have a voice, they would use it to help others. Participants offered a range of suggestions including providing young people with support from people with lived experience.

Guest speaker Luke Anderson told his inspiring story from hitting rock bottom after being jailed for drug trafficking, to finding the strength and resilience to change his direction.

Since his release, Luke has contributed to a documentary on positive psychology, started a company that helps others overcome hurdles to gain long-term employment and has developed the skills to succeed in relationships, business and community. He’s now on a mission to prove that anyone can turn their life around.

Client Voice advocate Luke Anderson

Another young person involved in the project, Denzel* (not his real name) told how feeling like an outsider as a young boy and being called a “terrorist” because of his Afghan background, led to falling in with a close but troubled group of teens.

“When I was 16 or 17, I was in Parkville for about two months for an assault. That’s when I did a lot of learning because I knew that place wasn’t for me. Once I set foot in there, I had a different mindset, that what I was doing wouldn’t lead to anything but more trouble.

“I wanted to change my path for the better. It was hard because with my group, it was about 20 friends, it makes you feel like a family. But I had my family at home, my mother and my father, and seeing them crying, it put a hole in my heart. They raised me in this world to do something better. I wanted to be in a position where they could be happy and know I wasn’t going to be in trouble again.”

Denzel now runs a successful business and wants those working with young offenders and making decisions to know they are often just “young and confused kids” who need support.

Young mother Layla revealed how just 18 months ago she was homeless, couch surfing and battling mental illness when she discovered she was pregnant. Today she is caring for her eight-month-old baby daughter and has a roof over her head. “The person I am today, I would not be without the help of my caseworker,” she told those at the launch.

Meli Corporate Communications Coordinator Kylie Oliver and young person Layla

These young people’s voices have been head, and project consultants Management Governance Australia (MGA) has developed resources targeting service providers, government partners and youth justice workers and aims to ensure young people are heard.

More information about the Youth Client Voice is available on our website.

The Client Voice Project was made possible with funding from the Victorian Government’s Crime Prevention Strategy. Auspiced by Barwon Child, Youth & Family (now Meli) and produced by Management Governance Australia (MGA) in partnership with BATforce.

More information about Meli can be found at meli.org.au

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