Aoife Moynihan talks to Northern Beaches organisations who support our youth when they need it most

Teenagers who make unwise choices can negatively affect their future, and some at-risk young people need extra guidance. The Northern Beaches are fortunate to have local organisations who work together to get young people back on track or prevent them from heading down a one-way street to trouble.

StreetWork, based in Willoughby, runs outreach programs across the Beaches with the aim of linking youth workers and case managers with vulnerable young people.

“Our youth workers and caseworkers help young people follow their hopes and dreams,” says Thomas Dent, StreetWork’s youth services manager.

“Our Kickstart program helps kids attend court dates, their meetings with counsellors and get to school,” says Thomas.

Finding the right words can be challenging for some young people, Thomas explains. “They may want to communicate with their school that they want an education. But they’re always in trouble with the school, and conversations are dominated by that, as opposed to what their aspirations may be.”

He says one of the issues on the Beaches is the need for more safe spaces for young people, as many youth centres have closed over the last 10 years.

“That’s probably why we have seen a bit of a rise in (anti-social behaviour) on the lower Northern Beaches,” he says. “Dee Why is our hotspot, plus Cromer and Narraweena,” says Thomas. “These are massive areas of need.”

Thomas says they know the groups involved in some of the Beaches incidents involving groups of young people this year, such as the brawl in Manly on Australia Day and in Forestville on 23 February.

“We know the cohorts and they’re all young people that are in desperate need of help themselves,” he says. “But there’s a reason they’re in those situations; they’re not engaged in positive activities in the community.

“They’re coming from broken homes and broken families. They’re finding belonging and purpose with each other, but sadly, the purpose is not a positive, productive one.

“What would be really great are positive places for young people to go in the evenings,” he adds.

StreetWork also runs a graffiti project for high-risk youth. A skilled facilitator helps young people sketch and paint a professional mural. Safe artistic practices and avoiding illegal graffiti are also promoted.

Kids learn surf lifesaving skills with the PCYC and Newport Surf Club

“The purpose is to engage participants via a street-styled experience,” says Thomas. “And then steer them towards further StreetWork support and local specialist programs.”

Youth Up Front (YUF) in Ingleside currently works with about 14 schools across the Beaches, delivering structured programs based on Skills for Life, Skills for Work and Skills for Wellbeing.

YUF executive officer Sam King says that school settings don’t suit some children.

“Secondary schools are like cookie factories, which is great if you want to be a cookie. But if you want to be a muffin, you just don’t fit. And that seems to be the way a lot of young people fall through the cracks or become disengaged.”

The programs teach kids job readiness, café skills, introduction to trades, and even basic life skills such as cooking.

StreetWork runs a regular graffiti program

“You’d be surprised how many kids don’t know how to use a dishwasher, a washing machine or how to make a bed,” says Sam. “We do a lot to help develop independence.”

Sam says that YUF collaborates with other organisations on some issues.

“If an issue is identified around substance abuse or mental health, we will work with (youth counselling service) Headspace,” Sam says. “StreetWork is usually involved because of an existing relationship (with the young person), so we keep them in the loop with what’s happening.”

YUF organises about 3,000 work placements annually for year 11 and 12 students across the North Shore and Northern Beaches.

Kyrah Hush is the sector manager for Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) Northern Beaches, which works closely with StreetWork and YUF.

She says many students complete work placements at the PCYC in Dee Why in areas such as sports coaching and business studies.

Youth Up Front says the school environment doesn’t suit everyone

“We also take many year 10 work experience kids from all local high schools,” says Kyrah. “In July, I have seven students from Forest High School who all chose to do their placement with us.”

PCYC Fit for Life is run in conjunction with NSW Police during school terms, both in PCYCs and as an outreach program. Students participate in a fitness-related activity, alternating between boxing, a gym workout, basketball or soccer.

Each session has 10 students selected by the school who need further support and engagement. Students also have conversations with police on topics such as the Young Offenders Act, vaping, graffiti, stealing and assault.

Inspector Andrew Papallo, operational co-ordinator for NSW Police Force Youth Command, says the program allows them to ‘target and interact with young people in need of intervention’.

“We can leverage the knowledge of the teachers and staff at the school and deliver diversionary programs in an environment that is familiar, comfortable and supportive for students.”

The PCYC began Fit for Life programs at Killarney Heights High School in term one this year and at Cromer High School in term two.

“Although only running for a single term, Killarney Heights has seen an improvement in behaviour of those students participating in the program,” says Insp Papallo.

YUF run a café skills program

The PCYC partnered with Newport Surf Life Saving Club in November 2022 to run Fit for Change programs to give children disengaged from school or committing minor offences a chance to undertake their surf life saving certificate.

Newport now runs two eight-week courses during summer school terms with police where up to 18 teenagers aged between 13 and 16 spend a day a week at the club.

Through the Surf Life Saving surf rescue certificate, the kids learn resuscitation, board rescues, swim rescues, first aid and radio and communications work within the patrolling structure.

Local schools that have been involved include Pittwater and Davidson high schools.

Newport president Guyran Smith says that as well as surf rescue skills, the program benefits the participants in many other ways.

“They’re learning to have a bit more confidence in themselves and to back their decision-making,” says Guyran. “Working with both the police and our trainers, you do see an incredible lift in that relationship and participation in working with different people.”

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