Our CEO Stephen Lewin writes about youth justice in Queensland | Youth Insearch


Tue, 02/03/2021 - 16:41


CEO Opinion, Place Based Model, Announcements

QUEENSLANDERS have been left shaken by two recent tragedies that have brought the issue of juvenile crime into the spotlight.

The deaths in Brisbane of expectant couple Kate Leadbeater and Matt Field, hit by an allegedly stolen car driven by a 17-year-old male repeat offender, left the community feeling shocked, saddened and angry.

A few days later in Townsville aspiring policewoman Jennifer Broad, 22, was killed when her motorcycle was hit by a car allegedly being driven by vigilantes in pursuit of a car allegedly stolen by an 18-year-old male.

The State Government’s response has been swift, its tough new suite of laws reflecting growing community concern about repeat juvenile offenders. I personally acknowledge the impact and deep sorrow the families of the victims are going through and understand the anger communities feel toward the offenders.

Were it not for a kind Juvenile Justice Officer more than 20 years ago, I could very well have ended up in a similar place as those young people now facing murder charges in Brisbane and Townsville.

As a teen living in the southern NSW township of Wagga Wagga, I was dubbed “The Devil’s Child” by my family doctor and while in a refuge I joined a gang of youths that stole cars and robbed the elderly.

I was on a downward spiral and on track to a life in and out of juvenile detention and eventually adult prison – where many of my old gang members ended up.

Fortunately, I was diverted into a program run by Youth Insearch – an organisation that helps troubled youth at risk of not only a life of crime but suicide and self-harm.

Today I head Youth Insearch, have an MBA, and previously spent 20 years in senior management with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

It is entirely understandable that people want young offenders to be punished for their crimes and to yearn for the sense of safety that comes from knowing these troublemakers are locked behind bars.

But talk to many who work in the juvenile justice system and they will tell you that once a young person enters the prison system it can be very difficult to turn their lives around.

Detention reinforces the sense among young people that crime is just something that is done – like going to university or getting an apprenticeship is for other people.

And time in detention means hanging out with the wrong crowd. The rate of reoffending among young people who have been incarcerated demonstrates it is not effective.

In many instances, young people fall into a life of crime because of an underlying trauma in their life – be it sexual or physical assault, homelessness, poverty, mental illness, or other forms of neglect.

By providing these young people with the resources and skills to deal with their trauma, it is possible to build their self-confidence, turning them away from juvenile detention and onto a path to a happy and productive adult life.

Not only does that save taxpayers money by reducing the need for detention facilities but it also lifts productivity.

Youth Insearch runs a successful peer-to-peer program that empowers young people to take control of their lives by giving them the opportunity and skills to develop their self-esteem and play a positive role in society.

While there are many services supporting young people with trauma and disadvantage, few are successful at empowering young people to deal with the difficult underlying emotional barriers, change their mindset and break free of their pasts.

The Youth Insearch program provides this point of difference, as it is led by young people that have overcome their own pasts. This approach enables young people to learn from their peers and see there are others who have been in similar situations.

Late last year, Youth Insearch launched its place-based model across Queensland, placing a Youth Insearch social worker in Chinchilla State High School, Dalby State High School, Tara Shire State College and headspace Bundaberg.

The placement of a new social worker within these communities will help young people who are struggling and ensure they receive tailored care.

An Urbis study in 2008 found only 17 per cent of Youth Insearch’s graduates reoffend.

By contrast, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found a staggering 80 per cent of juveniles who commit crime between the ages of 10 and 18 will reoffend within 10 years.

Keeping young people out of detention is a key element to reducing juvenile crime. But it needs to be complemented with programs that will give young people the sense of self-worth to navigate a successful path through life. This way, everyone benefits.


Stephen Lewin
CEO, Youth Insearch


The Place Based Model is designed to be a solution for all communities and institutions in Australia. For more information, please submit your enquiry and we will be in touch.