Education offers hope to young offenders

An innovative program helping teenagers charged with breaking the law attend school has been praised by Victoria University researchers as a ‘circuit breaker’ that can divert young people out of the justice system and into classrooms.

The Education Justice Initiative (EJI) focuses on educating many of the 1000 or more young people who appear every year before the criminal division of the Victorian Children’s Court.

Many haven’t gone to school for months – even though school attendance is compulsory until age 17 in Victoria – or have cycled through countless schools as they reject, or are rejected by the education system.

Since its launch in September 2014, EJI has worked with hundreds of young people on the court’s registrar list to find suitable schools or training, with the knowledge that education is the most powerful form of rehabilitation.

Victoria Institute researchers Associate Professor Kitty te Riele and Karen Rosauer have recently completed an evaluation about EJI. They say it shows that the EJI enables young people to access education when previous efforts had failed.

The report found that every one of the approximately 100 children they studied wanted to re-engage with their education, but many didn’t really know where to go or how to do it.

After being involved with EJI, which acts as a link between schools, courts and welfare services, school enrolments increased from 51% to 75% and school attendance improved from 9% to 54%.

Dr te Riele said the key to the program’s success is the specialist knowledge that staff have about schools and procedures, and their willingness to work for weeks or even months to identify the right schools and build relationships.

Among the most vulnerable children are ‘cross-jurisdictional kids’ whose issues are compounded by being victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, or coming from families with matters before the family division of the court.

EJI is funded by the Department of Education and Training and administered by Parkville College. It makes a particular effort to be involved in the Koori Court. She recommends this model be considered for use in other Children’s Courts in Australia.

The report, Education at the heart of the Children's Court, will be launched by Children's Court president, Judge Amanda Chambers on 14 December.  

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