The 'missing piece' between crime and counselling



A local organisation is preventing at-risk kids from slipping through the cracks – and they’re doing it with very little support.

‘If you build it, they will come’ might have worked for Kevin Costner, but it’s certainly not working for the Northern Beaches, and its most at-risk and vulnerable young people.

As StreetWork’s long-time youth services manager Tom Dent explains, there is investment in counselling and rehabilitation services but not in the youth workers that are connecting the kids to them.

“The mentality of ‘build it and they will come’ is not exactly how it works when you’re a kid of 13 years of age, you’ve experienced abuse at home, violence, you’re coming from a background of complex trauma, and you have to find the people that can help you all on your own when you’re still trying to figure out the world,” he tells Peninsula Living

“It just beggars’ belief that we still think in those ways… The big missing piece is then, who helps that kid get there to see the right doctor or to see the psychologist and get the ongoing support they need?

“So much of the funding is set up to be, ‘You’re a drug and alcohol counsellor, so open the doors and watch the young people roll in’, but the young person who might need that drug and alcohol counselling the most is coming from a broken family situation, they’re coming from a total lack of routine, and a lot of chaos in their life, so they might not have someone to even help them understand public transport!”

What began in the 1980s, with StreetWork founder Peter Hobbs pulling together other members of the local community to talk to young people sleeping rough and connect them with support services, has become that all-important conduit for young people to access the professional help they need.  

Across the North Shore and Northern Beaches, all too frequently, StreetWork’s army of volunteers are showing up at all times of the day and night to support a young person who has found themselves in trouble with the law or been kicked out of home.

“They’re on call 24-7, so if a young person is in custody at 3am and needs someone there then the volunteer will get the call and head on out,” Tom explains. 

“They’ll report back to us, and hopefully by being at the police station with the young person, it encourages them to work with my team to accept ongoing support.

“The volunteer will say to the young person, ‘Look, I’m happy to just sit here quietly and read a book but if you do want to chat, I’d love to talk. 

“They’ll do their best to try and find out the positives of this young person, what motivates them, what are the opportunities, and what are their needs. Then they’ll encourage them to connect with one of our youth workers.”

A youth worker will then be paired with the young person as a mentor as part of its KickStart program, and meet up with them regularly face-to-face, as they work towards turning their lives around alongside other professional services.

That can mean anything from finding the young person employment or housing; getting them back into school; mending relationships with family; providing legal assistance; or tackling mental health issues, and/or drug and alcohol dependency.

On top of the police, StreetWork regularly fields referrals from hospitals, schools, welfare officers and family members.

“Often it’s, ‘We have this kid that needs help and support but they’re pushing everyone away’,” Tom continues.

“So, in a lot of ways, we’re that last line of defence as youth workers.

“We need to be able to build a rapport, build trust, and build a connection with that young person. From there, we can hopefully journey together then to take those steps towards change, meeting the right people and agencies.”

While Tom’s reluctant to share specific examples of some of the incredible turnarounds he’s been involved with, he does say it’s a special feeling when one of the team’s mentees gets back in touch with them a year or two down the track to thank them and talk about their progress. 

“It’s remarkable when they say, ‘Thank you, because you were the first people who cared for me despite the fact everything was going wrong, I was being arrested, I was kicked out of home, and no one was taking the time to find out what was going wrong,” he says. 

“I’m a strong believer in that there’s no such thing as a bad kid, it’s really about meeting that young person who might be acting out and having issues with anti-social behavior and then finding out what they’re motivated by, what they’re passionate about.

“Once they have this adult that’s saying, ‘Look if we give this a shot, we can sort this out’, it changes everything.”

While Tom is impressed by the work Northern Beaches’ Council’s youth team do, and he lauds the work of Northern Beaches PCYC in Dee Why, the youth worker of 20-odd years says it’s “alarming” that there isn’t a single youth centre in Pittwater. 

“If people can see the negatives and the concerns then the answer is not demonising young people, it’s investing in them,” he continues.

“It’s investing in the things that can open positive pathways for them. It is greater access to youth services and centres, as opposed to sensationalising any youth culture that may be happening on the Beaches.”

For more information visit

Joe McDonough, Editor-in-Chief, Peninsula Living Magazine

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