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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (16 February) . . Page.. 175 ..

MR RUGENDYKE (continuing):

Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker - that there is what I call a criminal look consistent with research into foetal alcohol syndrome. It does sound odd but I have been able to recognise that look in many of the troubled children that I have had dealings with. Protection of our children goes further than just watching them progress through the criminal system. They must be grabbed at a very early age and guided away from the inherent dangers of criminal activity, abuse and self-harming behaviours.

Police also have a role in caring for our youth. It dismays me greatly that the AFP chose to discontinue the use of juvenile aid bureaus some years ago, under the guise that every police officer now is capable and is responsible for youth within their routine patrol duties. Diversionary conferences and police initiatives such as Project Saul offer an alternative for our youth to experiencing the court system and its danger of becoming trapped in the legal system.

The Richmond Fellowship has operated the Phoenix program for about 10 years. The Phoenix program is an educational day program which caters for the needs of Marlow House and Outreach House residents, and also four or five referrals from other services. With rationalisation and the downsizing of services such as this, the program is now unable to offer anything more than a babysitting service for their own charges and is no longer able to take referrals from other areas. The important thing to realise is that there are a large number of services specifically directed towards youth and that they must be appropriately resourced to ensure that young people do not fall through the cracks and end up in either the criminal system or exposed to self-harm. Overall, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, the platform for youth services in the Territory is in place, but we are at a crucial time where we have to consolidate that platform.

We need to identify the weaknesses. One such weakness is the development of measures which allow us to intervene on inappropriate early childhood development at an early stage before children enter the criminal system. I do not think we are completely on top of the situation. The only way we can stay on the pace is to identify the weaknesses and act now. We have to act now in a cooperative fashion that is going to produce the best outcome for the youth of our community.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (5.13): I am happy to take part in this debate. This certainly is a genuine matter of public importance and one which I think it is appropriate to have raised. We do need to have more debates about this topic in this place because, frankly, issues to do with youth in our community tend not to be debated to the extent that they should, even in a place like this.

Mr Speaker, the causes of the problems which have been identified in the course of debate today are very varied and very hard to fully itemise, much less address in the space of a debate that lasts only one hour. Mr Rugendyke said, and I think he echoed the comments of others in this place, that, as a community or as a justice system, I suppose, or as a system of services provided by government, we are not completely on top of the situation, both in terms of the way in which people are brought into criminal behaviour and in terms of the way in which we help people who are affected in some way by dysfunctional lifestyles, be they affected by drugs, problems in their families or in some other way.

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