Scores of Ballarat children as young as 12 are at risk of falling into a life marred by crime, a welfare advocate says.
Highlands LLEN executive officer Jannine Bennett who provides crucial support services for some of the city’s most at risk children said more than 583 Ballarat children were not in mainstream schooling.
Her words come as alarming statistics show high rates of children are failing to engage with meaningful education leading to anti-social behaviour.
Only 70 per cent of Ballarat teenagers are completing year 12, she said. The figure is 10 per cent lower than the state average.
Some children did not even attend school or had disjointed attendance depriving them of stability and meaningful relationships, she said.
Ms Bennett said Ballarat children who were in out of home care or had experience domestic violence or drugs use at home were much more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour.
“For some children, in out of home care, life is too traumatic and education becomes a low priority,” Ms Bennett said.
The sentiment was echoed by Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative chief Karen Heap. The veteran youth affairs worker slammed calls for tougher sentencing. She said some youth revelled in the notoriety of racking up court sentences.
It comes as police blame a small group of disengaged youth for a six-year high spike in aggravated burglaries committed by children as young as 12.
The high rates of youth crime in Ballarat and Victoria led the state’s top police officer to call a ground-breaking youth summit examining the underlying social issues leading to the spike.
Victoria Legal Aid's executive director of criminal law Helen Fatouros told Fairfax Media agencies needed to interact with youth to understand the individual, social and political factors that influence their offending. Assistant Commissioner Walsh told The Courier all communities in Victoria were experiencing the same problem. “Youth crime is dropping … but there is now more serious crime being committed by young people,” Assistant Commissioner Walsh said.
Ms Bennett and Ms Heap said a number of programs were currently being developed but more needed to be done to ensure vulnerable young people were able to connect with relevant services before they came into contact with the justice system.
“We need more education, and rehabilitation to empower youths with skills,” Ms Heap said.
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