Rocky uses his experience of the justice system to help him support young people stay on track and engaged in employment

As a young man, Rocky Dawson had contact with the prison system. Through his role as a Wellbeing Support Officer as part of Jesuit Social Services’ employment programs, he is now using his lived experience to help other young people in a similar position to get back on their feet and find meaningful work.

“There was none of this stuff back in my day, and I can tell you it is brilliant. There are people here to help and support young people who are facing challenges, as we want to see people thrive.”

Rocky provides direct support to young people, mainly those who have had contact with the justice system and who have faced challenging circumstances that mean they aren’t ready for work.

“It doesn’t do a person any good to be given an employment opportunity that they’re only going to lose because they are not ready for the job. Our support allows them the space and time to address the barriers they face prior to commencing employment,” explains Rob Auger – Manager Employment Services at Jesuit Social Services.

“During the COVID-19 restrictions, there were a whole host of reasons why somebody might decide to disengage. We wanted to see if we could address some of the issues that were stopping them from accessing services and perhaps point them in the right direction towards other supports, all the while keeping them linked in with us.”

Rob says it is a “very positive outcome” that more than 50 per cent of the participants Rocky has worked with have either re-engaged with employment services or have accessed other support services that set them on the pathway to participate in employment programs when they’re ready.

Many of the participants Rocky works with are experiencing mental health or substance abuse problems, financial problems or language barriers.

“And other things that come along out of the blue,” says Rocky. “Once they’ve settled and they’ve overcome the issues that would disturb their employment, I’ll refer them back to the employment coaches and tell them they’re ready for work.

“That will lead to further training and education, which will often lead to a job opportunity.”