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In their own words

A rights-respecting approach to youth justice

Renae Johns, Senior Practitioner | Renee Norris, Youth Specialist | Max Davis, Youth Specialist
Youth Justice Services Team, Mackay, QLD

A gig that combines child rights and youth justice.

54 reasons support children and young people who are in contact with youth justice system. Our approach to working with kids is focused on listening deeply to understand their needs and aspirations and supporting them to know their rights. Renae (left), Renee (right) and Max (centre) are a close-knit team who support young people aged 10 to 18 who have been in contact with the law. Their work focuses on being there for the kids all the way through their bail conditions which can range from a few months to up to 18 months. Every day is different, depending on the needs and interests of the young person they are supporting. Many of the kids they work alongside have experienced varying degrees of trauma both in and out of detention. Ultimately, their goal is to supports the young people to transition back into their community, build their confidence and turn their lives around.

"What I like most about working for 54 reasons is seeing the young people achieve their goals and seeing them have their small wins and overcoming barriers that they didn't believe they could overcome" - Renee Norris, Youth Specialist

Renae Johns, Senior Practitioner | Renee Norris, Youth Specialist | Max Davis, Youth Specialist
Youth Justice Services Team, Mackay, QLD

Q: What’s an average day look like for you?

Renae: I don't really have an average day. Sometimes we think our day's beautifully planned and then something happens, and it all gets thrown out of the window. There is no typical day. We try and take them to the park, try and find some positive things that they might like to do.

Renee: All of our days start with planning, however, that can quickly change depending on the mood and the situation of the young person on the day, so you have to be flexible and be able to change what you're doing on that day. Every day is diverse and different. We help them get on their feet with their Centrelink and help them make their bail conditions and appointments. We also like to balance that with some pro-social activities like fishing, rugby, bowling, the cinema, fun things like that.

Renae: A lot of the kids that we work with don't have identification or a birth certificate which is needed to access any Centrelink payments they are eligible to receive. The process is really difficult, so we help them navigate that, which gives us the time to build trust. We had a 16-year-oldwho wasn't registered at birth. It took five months to actually get the birth certificate. The look on his face when he was actually holding his birth certificate was priceless. His words were, 'I'm actually a person now'. So that's a pretty big win. I think when you can shift someone or help someone shift from feeling completely hopeless to feeling like they do have power over them themselves and they can achieve something that's amazing.

Renee: Fridays are generally court days. A typical court day might include going into court with that young person, sitting and listening to the hearings and the sentencing, and then supporting that young person to understand what their sentencing and bail conditions mean. Because sometimes they don't understand in a courtroom what they're agreeing to or what they're pleading guilty to. After court, we have a sit down and a chat and ask them if they understood the judge. We kind of walk back through what happened in the courtroom so that they have a better understanding of everything.

Q:How do you help the kids to understand their rights?

Renee: Child rights is something we talk about inmost of their appointments, but how we bring that up is in in conversation and letting them know they have rights and how they can use it to defend themselves or stick up for themselves. If they have some knowledge of their rights, we find they generally feel more confident to speak up.

Renae: In the court space – which is confusing for anyone – first question we always ask them when they walk out of the courtroom is, ‘did you understand what just happened?’ Nine times out of ten, they'll say‘ no’. They have no idea what the sentence means, so we take the time to explain in in their language what it actually means and what they've agreed to. I’ve worked in the court space before, so I do understand a lot of the legal jargon. We try and make sure that we are sitting with the solicitors when they haven't got parents or guardians with them. It’s important because it’s directly related to their freedoms. We advocate for the kids when they're being asked top lead guilty to offenses that they might not necessarily or probably shouldn't be pleading guilty to – often they get told it's easier to plead guilty and that they’ll get a lesser sentence if they do, but it's not always in their best interests.

Q: What do you enjoy about working for 54 reasons?

Max: I enjoy everything. I enjoy picking up the young ones, taking them out, doing cultural things. The best thing is seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing their stories.

Renee: What I like most about working for 54 reasons is seeing the young people achieve their goals and seeing them have their small wins and overcoming barriers that they didn't believe they could overcome. And seeing their confidence grow. I think 54 reasons is different from other service providers because they really stand behind their values in advocating for children's rights. And as an organization, we like to follow through with our plans and promises to the young people so that they don't feel let down.

Renae: I love the kids. I love that we have the autonomy to be able to work freely with the kids and that it feels like a safe space for them. I love that the kids go from being completely resistant to any kind of support or help with any service to starting to accept help from other services after they start working with us. Some of our young people come from custody and go on to do amazing things like getting their learning license, applying for housing applications, moving into their own units, living independently. I just love helping kids have hope. And I think that that's what this organization really promotes, and the kids feel it.

Q: What would you say to someone who’s thinking about applying for a job at 54 reasons?

Renae: Come work with us. You'll have heaps of fun. It's a great job – it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution to help young people. Sometimes kids do bad things, but a lot of the time they just need someone to say, ‘It's okay, let's work through this together’.

Renee: It's an amazing organization to work for. It's fun. It's rewarding. It's challenging. But you're also working with a group of people that share the same goal of supporting young people.

Max: The number one thing is you have to be a genuine person who wants to support and help young people. You have to genuinely love people. The people who work here are always friendly, genuine and everyone's on the same page.

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