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Tainted youth: Stigma stops young being heard, even as victims

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Sometimes perceived as criminals, young people may also be victims, and want to play a role in the response. But one still had to burn down the shed to be heard.

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The Queensland Family and Child Commission has told a parliamentary committee of its efforts to advocate for the welfare and wellbeing of young people.

Labor MP Jonty Bush noted that members of her community had spoken about “some of the narrative around young people,” particularly in relation to youth crime.

A community and political outcry over youth crime, particularly in Townsville, prompted the Palaszczuk Government to last year introduce various reforms, including the introduction of GPS tracking ankle bracelets for repeat young offenders.

Bush asked whether young people were being “stigmatised” by the youth crime debate, prompting Commissioner Natalie Lewis to say “that narrative is certainly problematic, it’s what gets attention”.

“We’ve got to be incredibly cautious that we are not underestimating the capacity of young people to speak up and to be positive and to have a really clear idea about what makes a difference in their lives,” Lewis said.

Principal Commissioner Cheryl Vardon revealed that as part of the government’s youth crime work, a roundtable would soon be held in Townsville to hear from more of the region’s young people.

Vardon said young people should have a voice not only when it comes to government consideration of youth crime responses, but also in its consideration of family and domestic violence policies and how to reduce the representation of indigenous people in child protection and the criminal justice system.

However, even within the child protection system, adults sometimes show complacency or bias that misses the red flags that young people are at risk, she said.

Vardon referred to one case where a young victim told her: “I had to do this and I had to do this and eventually I burnt the shed down”.

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