Disadvantaged youth discarded in mooted government budget cuts

Disadvantaged youth discarded in mooted government budget cuts

Margaret Jurd College, a Uniting Church special school providing education and residential support for damaged and disadvantaged young people in the Hunter region, fears it will be subject to widespread budget cuts by the O’Farrell government.

The college was listed in an internal departmental briefing note to be “transferred to Health without funding or defund” as part of the government’s community services savings strategies.

Although Minister for Community Services Pru Goward said she had not authorised the briefing note and was not planning to make “cuts of this order”, the college has received no contact from the government about the renewal of its funding for 2013, only a letter dated October 11 saying that the Minister has raised the matters to be examined and that a response will be provided.

Margaret Jurd’s manager, Melise Sutton, said, “This action by the government will have a direct impact on many of the most disadvantaged youth in Newcastle, the Hunter and surrounding regions.”

The school provides education, case management and residential care to young people who are unable to maintain mainstream education due to challenging behaviours.

Challenging behaviours culminate as the result of behavioural or mental health disorders such as ADHD, ODD, PTSD, OCD, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, early onset Psychotic Illness, Conduct Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Language Disorders, and Autistic Spectrum Disorders (the majority have multiple diagnoses).

Other factors affecting students are histories of abuse or neglect, domestic violence, recidivistic criminality (young offenders or parents with histories of criminal behaviour), generational welfare dependency, learning disabilities, addiction within the home and homelessness.

Ms Sutton said, “If the funding cuts as outlined eventuate, we lose our case management program and we lose our residential unit. We will no longer be able to make a difference for these young people. They have no other options available to them.”

She said, “Without intervention they would be destined to the continuation of generational welfare dependency and continuation of already established criminal behaviour and addiction.”

She said the cost to the State and the country of those consequences far outweighed the short-term savings made by defunding an agency that has a 26-year history of success.

“Our current enrolment is 24 students. For all of them to be unemployed for one year on youth allowance would cost the state $270,614.40. This cost increases as they get older to the Newstart allowance, where it would cost the state $331,027. Then they have children and parenting payments are added.

“These figures are on payments alone and do not include the administration cost of processing payments. We then need to look at the impact on Health and the consequences for the many young people referred to us through juvenile justice and the local magistrates.”

Ms Sutton said, “For one young person to be held in custody for 12 months it costs the state in excess of $150,000. While it may be necessary to cut expenditure due to the current state deficit, it shows poor wisdom to save out of one portfolio only to have a dramatic impact on others.”

Margaret Jurd College

Ms Sutton said, “Our main objective is to provide an opportunity to young people to change the direction of their life and break the cyclic nature of disadvantage through alternative education and holistic support.

“We target the social, emotional, interpersonal and physical needs of the young person through case management support.

“Young people who have been discarded by the mainstream system are able to set real life goals and be supported in establishing a plan and achieving their goals.”

Caseworkers provide support to families through open communication and advice as well as constant understanding and encouragement. The residential unit provides a home away from home to students who are geographically isolated and respite care to students and families who are feeling fractured and need time to heal.

“Our education provides individualised education plans, flexibility in delivery and scaffolded learning,” Ms Sutton said.

“We have small classes, lots of support with school work and real life lessons around how we respond to frustration and anger in a positive way, what a positive relationship looks and feels like, the right to be respected and the responsibility to be respectful.”

The college’s holistic model allows the students the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.

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