The dramatic crimes committed by teenagers in Ballarat this week highlights the need for early intervention and accessible resources, support agencies and police say.
In the last week, at least seven children aged between 13 and 17 were arrested in Ballarat and Melbourne, with another two children involved in a car crash in Delacombe.
Crime statistics more broadly in Ballarat indicate a fall in crime rates, although statewide, youth crime is increasing slightly, but the confronting arrests this week are concerning.
Ballarat police service area Superintendent Jenny Wilson said it is a "significant issue" and it is being addressed.
Police are working with youth justice and support agencies to ensure vulnerable children do not fall through the gaps.
"We have a significant number of those who are disengaged from education and are reliant on support services," Superintendent Wilson said.
"Those children are more and more likely to get involved in crime."
Some agencies are looking at new, multi-discipline initiatives, with more supervision, support, and outreach to keep these children out of trouble.
Youthlaw, which operates out of Ballarat Community Health, is a statewide not-for-profit legal centre which aims to provide lawyers for young people.
Its director, Ariel Couchman, said the support can make the difference between a positive future or being trapped in circumstances for vulnerable children.
"(Young people) can be greatly affected by not dealing with problems leading to mounting debt, eviction, bad credit ratings, continuing family violence, and a criminal record for minor offences," Ms Couchman said.
"Getting in early and working on why they offend is very effective. We do this with the help of the many great services in the region."
Being in a regional city presents challenges - services, especially residential drug rehabilitation programs, are harder to access.
"Clients want to give up but have to wait a long time to get into residential detox programs. There are few for ice addiction," Ms Couchman said.
"Job opportunities and housing are also important. There also needs to be more counselling and other supports for young people wanting to get out of violent relationships."
Youthlaw's positioning at Ballarat Community Health allows greater access to young people referred from other agencies, and making sure all their needs are taken into account at once - in Ballarat, lawyer Sophie Ellis said keeping young people well supported was the "best way to build our community".
"Targeting issues quickly via both legal and other community supports, reduces compounding harm, for example, arising from things like fines and debt, unlawful treatment by a landlord and family violence - problems which can lead on to crises like chronic financial stress, disengagement with study, homelessness and safety," she said,
"(These are) issues which impact not just on young people but our entire community."
The latest crime statistics, released this week, indicate statewide the number of alleged offenders younger than 18-years-old rose slightly between the year ending in June 2018 and June 2019, by 1.4 per cent.
However, the proportion of offenders fell compared to those aged 18 or older.
Two thirds of alleged offenders under 18 were aged between 15 and 17.
Superintendent Wilson agreed the focus needed to be on support.
"They are committing more dynamic crime, visible to the community, and the reason they do it is for gratification, they are not making a great profit. It's often about status and usually it's because there is no sense of purpose and they are finding a way to occupy their time," she said.
"We're going to start shifting our focus on early intervention or deterrence for those starting off. We are talking to government and non-government about how we can design programs to provide options for these children and get the community behind them.
"It's about giving children a purpose in life."
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