The last few years have not been easy for young people. Young Victorians have endured serious disruptions to their study and work lives caused by COVID-19 lockdowns and climate disasters such as bushfires, and concerns remain about the impact of multiple years of disrupted schooling and the national shortage of qualified teachers on children and young people’s education and social development.

In 2021, Jesuit Social Services made a submission to the Victorian Government’s first ever Youth Strategy, drawing from our 45 years’ experience working with some of Victoria’s most marginalised and disadvantaged young people.

Our submission argued that for young people with complex barriers to education and employment — such as a history of trauma, drug and alcohol issues, cognitive disabilities, involvement in the child protection/out-of-home care and criminal justice systems, and young people from racially marginalised communities — providing access to education, training and employment opportunities alone is not enough. Opportunities must be coupled with targeted support that addresses their trauma and the structural barriers and inequities they face.

“Many of the people who come to us have been really hard done by – emotionally, socially and in education.”

Estrida Pepe

Trainer, Jesuit Social Services' Jesuit Community College

We need early intervention programs to re-engage young people in school

Steven is one young person who faced barriers to staying engaged in school. He’s a young boy and a participant of the Victorian Government-funded Navigator program which we help deliver. Steven’s mother is supportive and attentive but he’s had some conflict in the family, has a diagnosed learning disability, and wasn’t receiving any extra help in the classroom.

Steven’s Navigator caseworker was able to build trust, connect him to culturally safe services and help him enrol in a flexible learning centre with an individualised learning plan. In the year before Navigator, Steven only attended school three times, but with Navigator’s support he is now attending regularly.

Jesuit Social Services was encouraged by the Victorian Budget 2020/2021 announcement of funding to deliver a pilot program lowering the eligibility age of Navigator program to 10, which will allow the program to intervene earlier in the critical transition period from primary to secondary school.

Young people in the justice system need targeted education, training and employment support

Some young people who have contact with the criminal justice system have been excluded from education for years and need tailored programs to help them get back on track and fulfil their potential at school, or build the skills they need to pursue work after leaving custody. The right support could be the difference between a young person cycling in and out of custody and staying out for good.

Alongside standard education programs, young people in custody must be supported by programs that build independent living skills and support job readiness. And that support should continue during the challenging period when young people transition out of custody. Our submission calls on Government to further invest in initiatives that provide training and education opportunities tailored to young people engaged in the justice system.

Pre-accredited learners are more likely to complete their qualification

We know from our experience delivering pre-accredited training in Victoria, through our Jesuit Community College, that some young people need extra support to build their skills and confidence for work and study.

Estrida Pepe, long-time trainer at the College, says, “many of the people who come to us have been really hard done by – emotionally, socially and in education.” Pre-accredited training is an important tool to prepare disadvantaged young people for the transition into mainstream training and employment. According to the Department of Education and Training a total of 78 per cent of learners who complete pre-accreditation go on to achieve a qualification, compared to the average Victorian VET student completion rate of 47.3 per cent. Our submission calls on Government to provide long-term funding for pre-accredited training programs.

What the Government’s strategy delivers

The ideas explored here are several among many interconnected actions proposed in our submission in the areas of mental health, housing, youth justice and out-of-home care system reform, and education, training and employment, crucial to creating a Victoria where all young people can thrive.

Earlier this month the Victorian Government released its Youth Strategy. A number of actions align with our submission recommendations in education, training and employment; among them, strengthening targets for employment of young people experiencing significant barriers to employment in Victoria’s Social Procurement Framework, and expanding job opportunities for young people across the Victorian public sector. But there is still much more to be done.

A Victoria where young people experiencing high levels of disadvantage and marginalisation can thrive means targeted education, training and employment support that addresses young people’s trauma histories and the structural barriers they face.