Safe and Connected Youth – Funding Security
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
For many years, experts raised concerns about the lack of specialist homelessness services for young Canberrans below the age of 16. Research conducted in the territory by ACU reveals that overwhelmingly these kids leave home to escape family conflict, violence, abuse, the impacts of alcohol or drugs, or the impacts of poor mental health. When these youth are picked up by the police, they sometimes spend a night at the watchhouse before being returned to their homes or placed in foster care. None of this, of course, fixes the problem.
I therefore welcomed the announcement two years ago of funding for a pilot project called Safe and Connected Youth. This program – which involves the Youth Coalition, Woden Community Service, Northside Community Service, Conflict Resolution Service, and Marymead – supports these kids and works with them and their families so that they can return home. The pilot was very successful, and the Canberra Liberals made continued funding for this program an election commitment in 2020.
Consequently, I sought assurance from Minister Stephen-Smith during Budget Estimates hearings in February that this important program would be funded beyond 30 June this year. The minister noted that, whilst the next budget would be delayed till August, there was ‘capacit
y to make early decisions’. She stated that ongoing funding had not been provided for in the current budget because they were waiting for its evaluation to conclude in May. She then said, and I quote, ‘I think you can be confident that the service supports will continue’. When I specifically asked if any kids needing this service would be left ‘in limbo’, she told me they would not.
In stark contrast, today one can read in the local media that, quote, ‘urgent funding is needed to ensure [that] Canberra’s Safe and Connected Youth Program can continue beyond 30 June’ and that ‘uncertainties around funding’ are making it difficult for the program to take on new clients, leaving kids in limbo, exactly as I feared.
I rise today to remind the minister of her assurances that this would not happen. The evaluation has been completed. The program met all its key outcomes. Many young people were able to return home safely, and those who weren’t have been successfully diverted away from homelessness. I call on the ACT Government to immediately provide the funding security that this program requires to keep operating between now and August and into the future.