Alice Springs Indigenous social worker says youth crime fix is to remove kids


Key points:

  • New Minister for Territory Families Kate Worden wants to "hold parents responsible" for youth crime in Alice Springs
  • Police have confirmed an "upswing in property crime" in the city
  • An Alyawerre man says kids should be removed from Alice Springs to ensure educational outcomes

Indigenous leaders, families, social workers and police all agree that youth crime in Alice Springs needs to stop — but so far a solution has proved elusive.

It is an issue the new Minister for Territory Families says is at the top of her agenda.

Kate Worden travelled to Alice Springs to meet key stakeholders in child protection, youth outreach and public housing safety officers — and some of the young people out on the streets.

A blonde woman sits in a parliament building with a serous look on her face.
Kate Worden says the youth crime problem in Alice Springs is something she plans to address.(ABC News: Andie Smith)

"We did have an opportunity the other evening, where we walked on the foot patrol with the youth outreach officers and actually spoke to a quite a lot of the kids," she said.

"There were a lot of young people out in the evenings, no doubt about that.

A controversial proposal

The most recent available crime statistics show a 1.67 per cent increase in property crime from August 2019 to July 2020, but local and Territory leaders say the number of children on the streets at night is unacceptable and parents are to blame.

Among them is Michael Liddle, an Indigenous social worker who is suggesting a highly controversial solution.

"Kids, they need to be removed from this area," he said.

"They need to be sent south or sent east to one of the colleges or schools where they can start learning, but they need to be removed from the environment where they currently are and learn."

A person with their arm raised as they throw an object at a car.
Youths damaged more than 50 new vehicles in Alice Springs in July 2017.(Supplied: NT Police)

Mr Liddle conceded that the proposal would be contentious given the connotations with the stolen generation.

"Of course, it's not going to be popular," he said.

"It's a very delicate little situation because that word, 'removal', was a forced removal years ago.

But Mr Liddle said a line must be drawn somewhere and parents needed to be held accountable.

"All these kids see is bad behaviour — the benchmark is set at home," he said.

"I think the parents have to be targeted.

"If you've got three kids, and they're running around the street, well, where's your responsibility to guiding your kid up?

A group of people standing outside a pub on a sunny afternoon.
The Todd Tavern in Alice Springs.(ABC News)

Spectre of stolen generations

But Richard Weston, the CEO of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, said Mr Liddle's suggestion would be an "imposed solution" that raised the spectre of the stolen generations.

"This is clearly a thought borne out of frustration," he told the ABC. "History tells us that removing children from families isn’t a solution. When we break a connection to culture and community that causes a lot of long-term harm to people."

Mr Weston said the community would see such a move as a "punitive action against young people" and, instead, community leaders could help address the issues, as they had in other troubled regional centres.

"These are deep-seated historical problems and families and communities need to be involved in designing a solution," he said.

"There is Aboriginal leadership in our communities. We need to create platforms for [young people] to have engagement with leaders on this issue.

"We need to know why kids are out on the street. The solution isn’t just removing them from their families. It requires a strategic response.

"There are lessons in [parts of] Australia where there have been similar issues, like Moree [in NSW] in the 90s.

"There were huge problems there but a solution was found. It came from businesses and community working together."

Exploring options

Regional Police Commander Craig Laidler shared the concerns of the community.

"We've got kids out and about on the street, overnight at strange hours," he said.

"Ideally, we would want them to be in bed and following a normal structure where they're going to school getting an education, participating in sport," he said.

A young Aboriginal student's hands on a school table.
Education and school attendance are related issues, according to Mr Liddle.(ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)

Commander Laidler has suggested the idea of a safe space for vulnerable children to the Alice Springs Town Council.

"I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not," he said.

"Our engagement that we have with all of our stakeholders is to discuss things like this, as to whether or not that's something that can progress, or whether we should go down another path."

'Where are the parents?'

Ms Worden said there were key questions to be asked about parental responsibility.

"Where are the parents of those kids?" she said.

"We'll be looking to work backwards, I guess, from where those kids are to where are the people that are responsible for them.

"I think you'll find at the moment there are a lot of those parents are acting irresponsibly themselves and not knowing where their kids are."

Ms Worden has promised the community that she will be holding parents to account, but admitted that could be a challenge.

"The task ahead of me is how we do that," she said.

Old beers cans and boxes of wine are littered on the red dirt.
Mr Liddle and Ms Worden agree that parents need to take more responsibility for their children.(ABC News: Lucy Murray)

One suggestions would be to deal directly with parents who are drinking excessively.

"Is there a possibility to put those parents on the banned drinkers register? They're the really big questions that need to be answered," Ms Worden said.

The Minister said she would also be reviewing service provisions.

"There's also a lot of funding going to programs that I'm left wondering whether they're actually working," she said.

"I think one of the base things that we've got to do straight away now is go back and go, 'Okay, who's doing what? Who's speaking to what and to who? And where are these services joining up?'"

(Source)


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