While the overall number of young offenders is going down in Victoria, there are still challenges in the youth justice system.
That's why the Children's Court of Victoria held It Takes A Village, a multi-disciplinary training day in Ballarat, organised and delivered by the Judicial College of Victoria and led by President of the Children's Court Judge Amanda Chambers and Grampians Regional Coordinating Magistrate Ron Saines, aiming to get representatives from across community services talking about how to improve responses.
Ballarat is the second regional city to hold the program, and Judge Chambers said that was because of the strength of the city's support services.
"We know that the courts alone can't fix this complex problem, we're just one aspect of a complex system - police can't arrest their way out of this, they can't respond alone," she said.
"But here, in Ballarat, the size and the systems and the organisations you've got operating are perfectly positioned to do more around young people."
As well as Youth Justice representatives, attendees also included the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria Police, Legal Aid, and the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative.
Judge Chambers said making sure all of these different aspects were on the same page, with the same understanding, was crucial in achieving positive results.
"For the most complex and vulnerable young kids, they are at very high risk of a lifetime's entrenchment in criminal offending and adult imprisonment.
"So, what collectively can this community do to break that cycle, what collectively can this community do to not only improve the chances of that young person, but also for the benefit of Ballarat?"
Statistics from the Children's Court's annual report show that the number of offenders found guilty has dropped from more than 6000 in 2009-10 to less than 3000 in 2016-17, and the Sentencing Advisory Council indicated that in 2015, about 1.4 per cent of the total population of children in Victoria were processed by police at all, with 0.6 per cent progressing to court.
Not only does this show that innovative rehabilitation processes are working, but it also reinforces that it's only a small group "within a small group" that present a "serious challenge" to the community, according to Mr Saines.
"More than 98 per cent of children do not in any part of Victoria come into contact with the criminal justice system," he said.
"Of those who do, the great majority are only there for a single appearance or for less significant offending.
"This is not about crime waves, it's not about being taken over by inter-racial groups or anything like that, it's about dealing with a complex problem in a sector of the community that is of importance to the Children's Court and to the community."
There is little understanding of the law that applies in the Children's Court and how it is very different to the law that applies to adults - in the Children's Court there are very different considerations for the Court when making important decisions around bail and sentencing.
The focus is on "child-specific considerations" and rehabilitation, with punishment less of a focus compared to adult courts.
"The first thing the law says when we're sentencing children is to support their relationship with their parents, to support their connection to their home, to support their ongoing engagement in education, and only if appropriate, to impose a sentence that will operate to send a message to that child that they are responsible for the consequences of their offending behaviour, and to protect the community," Judge Chambers explained.
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly said in relation to child offenders, and young offenders, is that rehabilitation is the focus - it's of benefit not just to the child, but the community."
She added studies indicated consequential thinking in young people did not fully develop until their mid-20s, which was another factor taken into account.
Complicating the matter was the fact that many young offenders suffered from poor mental health, which in turn made them more vulnerable.
"Not only do you have the immaturity inherent in all young people, but a lot of trauma, neglect, and abuse, and they all compound one upon the other," she said.
That's why collaborative information training sessions are so important, as police and youth justice workers can interact with mental health specialists.
"One conversation I was just having with a police officer, he was just in the circle (discussion) ... and we were all playing a role, playing the role of the child in this circle of professionals ... he was saying what he recognised was that in the role of the child, how much he hated being talked down to.
"He wanted people to talk to him.
"We could do so much more working together - that's what we've been hearing."
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