Failing To Educate Is A Form Of Neglect

We want so much more for our young people. We want them to have a “voice”, and we want them to have “choice”.

How powerless must a young person feel when they have to scream to be heard, or have choices taken from them? Kids in care have the least choice of all. They have no family member to care for them, so the system places them in the care of strangers, whether that is a foster family or residential care. Kids in care have the lowest school attendance of any at-risk group. The one tool that can free them from a future of poverty is education, yet they have little choice in how they can access it.

Those suffering abuse, neglect or poverty would like to be able to choose a safer family life, or choose to be accepted, or choose not to be bullied, or choose to attend a different school. When certain rights are stripped from you, it makes it incredibly difficult to see a bright future.

Options and choice give all of us a sense of empowerment. As adults we can choose where we live, who we live with, where we study, where we work, what we buy with our earnings. If we are unable to educate every child, we must live with the consequences of young people who cannot achieve what we all take for granted. A life full of options and choice.

Education is a human right. It is the only way to address poverty among our young people. Education gives them hope, confidence, ability, and choice. It saddens me that so many young people right here in our affluent city are falling between the cracks. Too many are not involved in any form of education. And they are not being counted. That is the true definition of “falling between the cracks.” They disappear from view. They disappear from school rolls, data systems, and they disappear from the “statistics”. Until they are ‘found’ they will wander aimlessly, feel worthless, commit offences, abuse alcohol and drugs, hurt themselves and others, and it perpetuates through to the next generation.

I am incredibly appreciative of our Ohana team who are finding these kids and connecting them with support and education. Words are difficult here. How do you acknowledge a team of 33 youth specialists who have committed their careers to helping the kids who are lost? I am confident that Ohana has the most unique team of youth workers you would ever meet. Our staff work in teams to create innovative projects aimed at engaging young people. The innovation and creativity shown by our team is mind blowing. We evaluate and document everything we do. We apply evidence based practices across all our programs. We are one of the few youth organisations that enhance every program with a pool of specially trained volunteers. Our volunteers increase our capacity to assist young people significantly. They are amazing.

Ohana is beautifully managed by Katrina Casaclang and I want to thank her for sharing the Ohana vision, and for turning her projects into something far more awesome than any government department or funding body could have expected.

On behalf of Ohana’s board of management, I would like to thank the Ohana team for their dedication, commitment and passion.

Why The Kids at Arcadia Changed Me

This moving account was written by Siobhan McAvoy, who completed her student placement at Arcadia College. Siobhan (Shiv for short) is studying community services, and part of her studies required a 4-week placement. This is her story.

Shiv with Arcadia student, Sophie, Yr 11.
Shiv with Arcadia student, Sophie, Yr 11.

My reflection is of the time I have spent at my placement. I was told I would be going to be placed at Arcadia College. Arcadia College is a college specifically created for youth on the Gold Coast who have disengaged from mainstream schooling. When I originally got told this is where I would be doing my placement, I was skeptical at best that I would be able to be in an environment surrounded by youth. I am self-aware and know that I don’t always approve of youth in society, so at this point I was extremely worried that this may not be the best fit for me. However I didn’t have a clear image in my head of where I wanted to go or what section I wanted to be in. I decided that I would go along to the interview with Mandy Pembroke and see where it led. The interview went well and I really enjoyed talking to Mandy however I still had doubts as to whether I would be best suited being placed with youth. Mandy invited me to attend the training that I would need to complete prior to my placement. I attended these two days and I had the best time with the group of people there. It was a fun, entertaining and informative two days that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I really enjoyed my two days at training and was starting to look forward to Arcadia College, albeit still holding reservations.

I arrived at Arcadia College’s Palm Beach campus on October the 15th, 2013. I was extremely nervous and a little reserved for the first day. I was expecting pandemonium, attitude, and disrespect. I thought that this would be the most difficult journey I had yet to undertake. What I got however was the complete opposite. I was faced with a polite, well-mannered, fun loving, energetic, inspirational group of people who made me feel more welcomed than I could have possibly expected.

The first day I spent in the reserved shell I have when I am out of my comfort zone, but that did not last very long. The second day I was starting to get to know the kids and found that I genuinely loved each personality that I met. Arcadia College was like nothing I have ever come across in my life. The kids that attend the school want to be there, they have found a safe haven in a world where nothing is safe and that is extremely rare and I am jealous that I never had this opportunity when I grew up.

The students are encouraged by a wonderful group of team leaders who have a lot of time and respect for their students and who offer them all the time and attention they require. Ohana means “family” in Hawaiian and when walking into Arcadia College you really feel that sense of belonging and acceptance- that feeling of being at home with a family. I found that with each day, I was more excited and eager to go. To those who know me well, I am always being told that I will “be late to my own funeral” and yet each day at Arcadia I am at least 20 minutes early. This is saying a lot!

The days I attended Arcadia College have blurred altogether in one fun, exciting, unpredictable, knowledgeable and rewarding end. I found my three days a week at Arcadia College went too fast and the rest of the week went too slow and the end came too fast. In the first few days I thought that being at Arcadia College was about helping the students, but soon found out that it was about helping each other. The students at Arcadia College have taught me valuable life lessons and they probably aren’t even aware of it. The students have taught me self-acceptance, respect, individuality, to be unbiased, to be open, and to let my guard down whilst still keeping appropriate boundaries in place and most of all acceptance of other people. Every day I went into the college, I learnt something different, something valuable and priceless. If I am to reflect about my time at Arcadia College I should identify the change in the person I was then as opposed to now. Going in to this I was a little more judgemental, self-righteous, egotistical and complacent but walking out I am grateful, open-minded, respectful, tolerant, enlightened, humanistic and receptive.

When I first started my placement I didn’t know what I wanted to do after this course. Now I know that youth is where I want to work. I loved going to Arcadia College so much that I know if I weren’t moving to England, I would still go volunteer there whenever I could. The work of the Team Leaders and students is inspirational and motivating and has given me more than just insight, it has given me a purpose and a career path and for this they will always mean so much to me and I thank them.

I never would have thought I would be questioning my decision to move to England. I am sad to leave such an amazing place and feel like I am leaving my children behind. They have made me so incredibly proud of all that they are and all that they have achieved and I only spent a few months with them. The team leaders looking out for them are exceptional human beings and I am so grateful I was able to spend time around them and learn from them.

A mentor is a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher, a senior sponsor or supporter and although they are called team leaders I think they should also be called mentors because they have definitely been mine. This experience has been one of the greatest things to happen to me in my life and reflecting over my time at Arcadia College leaves me feeling fulfilled and thankful.

For more information visit http://www.arcadia.qld.edu.au

For more information about volunteering with Ohana or Arcadia College email mpembroke@ohana.org.au

When Children Commit Crime

I struggle to understand why some young people consistently and habitually offend.

Some show no fear, no acknowledgement of consequences, no respect and no recognition of wrongdoing. They offend whenever they get the chance.

Why do young people continue to put themselves and others at risk by re-offending?

The most thoughtful information I found came from a brilliant book written by American judge, Irene Sullivan who wrote “Raised by The Courts.” Judge Sullivan often felt helpless seeing juvenile repeat offenders enter her courtroom over and over again, some as young as eleven years of age.  She understood that once a child enters the court system it becomes a revolving door for that child. Her book discusses many real life examples of young children who were not protected by adults, and ended up in juvenile detention or foster care.

Some of our Arcadia College students are self-confessed offenders. They shoplift, break and enter, steal cars and bully others. Some have experienced juvie, others are on probation and others still, regularly re-offend. There is one thing these kids have in common; they have had a significantly disrupted education, including truancy, suspensions and exclusions.  Judge Sullivan states, “research suggests that heavy use of suspension does less to pacify schools than to push already troubled students toward academic failure and dropping out.”  Every child needs an education, but no one needs it more than a teenager involved in, or at-risk of being involved in crime. It is, in my personal view, one of the most effective strategies that will save them from a lifetime of court appearances and prison time.

The education system often excludes these kids because of their aggression, anger or extreme behaviours. Of course, a school must be safe for everyone, and yes, exclusions are justified in some cases, but these are very often neglected kids that need ongoing help, and an alternative form of education.  Keeping kids in an alternative form of schooling and out of the justice system should be a major priority, not just for the well-being of the individual child but to avoid substantial future societal costs. The value of sparing a fourteen year old first-time offender from further involvement with the system comes to an estimated US$3.2 million, including savings in incarceration costs, victim losses, and the loss of a productive citizen to prison.

Our students are too young to be caught up in the justice, child protection or court systems! It is not a positive place to be! And we are talking about kids as young as 12 and 13! Surely there must be a positive way to intervene and protect these kids earlier on? They cannot all be ‘evil’ criminals, deserving of punishment.

Violence may play a significant part in their young lives. Almost every young offender we know has experienced violence from a very young age. They see it as a necessary part of survival. They are very clear and uncompromising on this point. No matter what you say to them, they are unwavering.  One 13 year old explained to me, “if a kid is not exposed to violence from a young age, how are they going to cope with it later on?” He genuinely believes violence is unavoidable. “It’s there, so we have to be tough enough to deal with it and fight back!”

Without a doubt we are dealing with a distinct cohort of young people who share similar characteristics. They have experienced violence and neglect. They have disconnected from school and community. They are looking for somewhere to truly belong.

If we are unable to provide these young people with a sense of belonging, I can guarantee that a criminal gang will. We are fortunate that teen gangs in Australia are not as prevalent and violent as they are in the U.S. Well, not yet anyway. Now is the time to take clear and precise action to formulate proven strategies to protect kids from offending. It all starts with providing these vulnerable kids with an alternative to mainstream schooling that will provide them a sense of belonging. 

Wanna Fake A Sickie?

This message is extracted from a hand-written note by one of our Arcadia College students who disengaged from mainstream school before re-engaging at Arcadia.

“Today my mate called early in the morning to fake a sickie to go filming (at the skatepark). If I was at school I would have done it in a heartbeat but there is something about (Arcadia) that makes me want to come to this, than filming. It’s nice to know I’m finally learning to prioritise and pick education over social life.”

Pure gold, hey?

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I always Mess Up

Here is a message from Lawanda (17) who has experienced both foster care and juvenile detention, as told to Judge Irene Sullivan: “Tell adults to be there for us. Be what our parents couldn’t be. Be somebody we didn’t have. Be a friend. Whether a girl is good or bad, be there to help. I have no one. And I really try to be good, but I always mess up. I need to hear that someone like me can make it.” From Raised By The courts, by Judge Irene Sullivan.

A Day At Arcadia

I spent the day with 12 of our Arcadia students on Wednesday. I arrived in time to join the boys for breakfast before kicking off the first session at 9.00 am.

Breakfast time is very relaxed and their team leader uses this time to brief the boys about their day ahead. From this briefing, I learned that the day would involve a cooking class, cultural studies and a session on bullying. I was there to run my weekly one-hour session with the boys. I wanted their feedback about their learning experiences and to get their views on how we approach having younger students next year. The boys were excited about the prospect of being seniors next year, and that they needed to provide leadership and guidance to the younger newcomers the following year. How would they approach that? What behaviours would they encourage, and how would they help the younger ones do the right thing? The boys want to ensure the reputation of Arcadia is protected. It is their school after all, and it is important to them. Many of our students have attended numerous schools, experienced suspensions, exclusions and disengagement, so they value this second chance to experience success at school.

I explained to the boys that we would need to employ more staff when our enrolments grow. What sort of people should we employ? What skills and expertise should they have? What questions would we ask potential teachers in an interview?

The boys pretended to interview me for the job. They asked bloody tough questions too. They put me through the paces, asking what my strengths and weaknesses were, what sort of activities I would conduct with students etc. I had not prepped them on what to ask me. I was impressed that they were asking questions they genuinely wanted answers to. They realised the reality that they could, in fact, help out with the recruitment and selection of future staff.

I then wondered why we conduct mock interviews with students by making them pretend to be the interviewee (the job seeker). Why not put them in the driver’s seat, and make them the interviewer (or the boss)? For starters, it is less confronting for them. It provides them the opportunity to see it from the employers perspective. They get to see how the adult answers the questions. They will learn more that way. They will be more engaged, more in control and feel empowered. This approach also allows the whole group to interview as a panel, or a team. They really enjoyed it. From experience, I have found very few kids enjoy mock interviews, when they are the ones being interviewed.

Students need to practice being interviewed, too. It pays off because it builds confidence and reduces nervousness when it comes time for a real job interview. But it is way more fun to allow the kids to sit on both sides of the interview table.

The boys had a short break before the cooking class started. Some of the boys were keen to cook, while others preferred to do some research on the iMacs to learn more about Fijian and Indian culture. The boys shared their findings with the rest of the class, prior to eating their delicious chicken and potato Indian curry. The boys made naan bread from scratch, too! It was delicious. The entire day was a huge amount of fun, just the way learning should be.

Find out more about Arcadia College’s educational model: http://www.arcadia.qld.edu.au

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When someone risks your culture

Developing a strong company culture is really important and often difficult to master, but to be honest – I see this as the easy part, especially within the community services sector. Our sector most often attracts employees who are passionate about making a difference so if you all have a common goal (e.g. to make the world a better place) then establishing “culture” is very possible.

The challenge arises when your company culture is compromised, or put at risk, say, by a new employee who doesn’t get it, and perhaps just doesn’t want to get it. If your culture is solid and deeply entrenched (which I think is the case at Ohana) then any risk will stand out like dog’s balls! Pardon my expression! But regardless of how obvious it is, it is still hard to deal with and to eradicate or manage this risk.

Culture is about attitude, beliefs, values….. Once you’ve established and strengthened your company culture, the next step is to foster actions to maintain and build upon it. It will need to involve your whole team, so watch out for saboteurs!