On Tuesday 14th June, members of the Parkville Youth Leadership Council, made up of children and young people detained in custody at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct, met with the senior leaders from education, child protection, Secure Services and other community organisations. The young leaders had been invited to the meeting by the Parkville College School Council to share their experiences within the precinct and beyond its walls.
The senior leaders engaged students in an open discussion, which ranged from what makes a great teacher to their personal wellbeing in the precinct, the purpose of education and their thoughts on being part of the Parkville Youth Leadership Council.
“The student council has made me become more of an adult, to the point where I will be starting a mentoring program within the precinct to provide peer-to-peer support very soon,” one young man shared.
Another said, “the school council helps us help others improve. We discuss small things that could benefit some of the kids in here. I really appreciate how the staff and teachers have supported to make this happen.”
“We were all really impressed by the maturity and insight displayed by the students. It was great to see and hear the obvious commitment they had, not only to making the most of their time on the Parkville Youth Leadership Council but also how they might be able to help and mentor other kids detained at the precinct. It was really impressive”, said Anthony Kolmus, Capacity Development Manager, Victorian Disability Services Commissioner.
The way in which the Parkville Youth Leadership Council came about was really special as it involved student and teacher collaboration. “One of our students was chatting to our Principal, Matt Hyde, about making some positive changes for the kids at the precinct. This young man suggested that he could be the School Captain, and that he could help change lives,” Parkville College’s VET Coordinator, Emily Hurley explained.
At the same time, Emily was studying a Masters in Student Wellbeing and was very interested in student leadership and what it could look like at Parkville College. Emily and the student joined forces and together pitched the concept to the General Manager of the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct. “The General Manager loved the idea. He couldn’t have been more supportive. If we didn’t have the support of our Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) colleagues, we would never have been able to get the program off the ground. We were thrilled when the council was approved, especially because it was one of the first times boys and girls within the precinct were allowed to mix and work together,” said Emily.
The innovative program provides a safe and positive forum for students to discuss issues and ways to improve the experiences of other children and young people incarcerated at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct. “The student council has two main purposes. The first one is to give these kids a voice. Our students have an understanding of living in custody that we will never completely understand. The other purpose is to provide an opportunity for our young people to experience themselves differently, as powerful leaders who have the ability to influence others in a positive way,” Emily explained.
Part of the program focuses on assisting students to communicate their ideas in ways that people can really hear. “The council gives students the opportunity to think about what it really means to lead and to influence others in a positive way. Throughout the program our students develop the necessary communications skills to articulate their very important and insightful perspectives in ways that society listens to,” Emily explained.
Students are given the opportunity to communicate with senior people and make changes within the precinct.“It so rare for our students to have senior people genuinely wanting to hear what they have to say. This term, the National Commissioner for Children and the Assistant Commissioner from Victoria Police came to speak with our council. Next term, the Chief Commissioner of Police, Graham Ashton, has arranged to meet with us. Currently, the students are consulting with the Youth House of Rehabilitative Services (YHARS) on ways to improve the provision of health services provided to young people in custody. Our students constantly amaze me. They tell their stories and offer their honest perspective and it’s powerful.”
The student council has helped introduce many important initiatives, including a school radio station, additional interschool sport, increased phone privileges to call family and friends, beanies and rain jackets for winter and the ongoing participation in the induction process of all new DHHS staff. “When these kids see things change it really shifts their thinking. The coolest thing is when a senior person follows through with one of the student’s ideas. They don’t expect this to happen, so when it does, it has a huge impact on their self-esteem,” Emily explained.
The student council, along with all of the programs and curriculum available at Parkville College, support the holistic development and growth of every child and young person detained within Secure Services, Victoria. “Student growth doesn’t happen as a result of one person or one part of the school. Every kid on the council has been influenced by the connections they have with the Parkville College teachers and staff, their families and communities, and DHHS staff” Emily explained.
“My favourite part of the role is giving students an opportunity to see themselves in a different light. Most of these kids have never had the chance to experience themselves as influential and empowered people. They have been tricked into believing that there is something wrong with them and that their actions define them. Instead, they are bright, capable and thoughtful kids, but have rarely, if ever, been given the chance to show this to the world. Our students have so much to contribute. It’s incredible to see them in their element. I’m very lucky,” Emily said.
“When Ben came to the precinct he was determined that he would not go to school. He had been involved in crime since he was 8 years old. He loved sport but had never been a member of a local sporting team. He told us to leave him alone, and that he hated education. We could understand why. But, now he has completed his year 10 and 11, VCAL certificates and is well on his way to finishing year 12. He is part of the Parkville Youth Leadership Council and has incredible leadership qualities. Ben still has some huge challenges ahead of him. He is undergoing massive growth and change. It’s exciting, but it’s not easy. The council has given him the opportunity to lead in a positive way. It’s amazing to see him begin to think about himself differently and to see his potential as a leader,” Emily said.
“Claire once told me that she has no one in her life. She has grown up in residential and foster care. Her time in the Cullity unit at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct with Leia, Dave and the incredible Cullity staff had a profound impact on her during her time detained in custody. She has grown enormously. When she first attended the council she would barely speak. Claire has a really powerful story and through the Parkville Youth Leadership Council, has shared her story with senior leaders. She is using her power to make positive changes. During her last council meeting before she was released, she gave a speech about the impact the council had on her and how it had changed her life. The road ahead for her is really hard. I’m so glad she had this chance to see herself a bit differently,” Emily explained.
Emily would like to thank the student council members, DHHS colleagues, and the Parkville College teacher and staff for their ongoing support and dedication in the organisation and facilitation of the Parkville Youth Leadership Council.
*Names of the youths in detention have been changed.