The Abbott Government's cuts to funding for Youth Connections and Reclink
This chapter investigates
the likely outcomes of the government's decision to cease funding to two
organisations recognised for their success in assisting young disadvantaged
Australians who have disengaged or are at risk of disengaging from
education, training, employment and the community. These organisations are:
Youth Connections, an organisation that plays an invaluable role
in helping disengaged young people access education and employment
Reclink Australia Limited (Reclink), a non-profit organisation
promoting sport and art programs for people experiencing disadvantage.
Youth Connections is a national network of community-based
young people, who are at risk of 'falling through the cracks', to maintain or
renew their engagement in education, training and employment. It has 65
providers nationally, and is currently delivered in 113 regions across
Australia in every state and territory.
Youth Connections summarised the scope and substance of its work:
The Youth Connections program generally assists young people
13-19 who are disengaged and inactive to reconnect to education, further
training or in some instances, employment. Service delivery is characterised as
youth focused, individualised intensive case management. Nationally, 30,000
young people are assisted annually in metropolitan, regional and remote
Australia. Approximately 20% of the client case load identify as Indigenous.
Specifically, Youth Connections provides tailored case management for
young people who access their services, which takes into account their
individual vulnerabilities and barriers to accessing education or employment
opportunities. These barriers can include mental health problems, caring
responsibilities, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and the breakdown of
Commonwealth funding for Youth Connections
The cost to the Commonwealth of the national Youth Connections program is
around $80 million a year, which breaks down to $2,000 to $4,000 for every
participant, depending on their location and individual needs.
Government funding for Youth Connections will cease on 31 December 2014.
Youth Connections submitted this will mean that from 1 January 2015, there will
be no Federal Government assistance for disengaged young people looking to
reconnect to education or training.
The strengths of Youth Connections
Every year, Youth Connections assists around 30,000 young Australians
who are at risk of disengaging from education, training or employment. Ms
Jennifer Kitchin, Director, Community Services ACT, Youth Connections Anglicare,
told the committee the program was very sucessful:
The success outcomes for this program are significant. Six
months after leaving this program, an average of 93 per cent of young people
are still engaged in some kind of training, education or employment, and, after
two years, [the figure is] 89 per cent.
Other organisations also spoke very favourably about the importance of
maintaining funding for Youth Connections. For example, Dr Cassandra Goldie,
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), told the
If we as a country were ever to be true to the idea of
developing policy based on evidence, the Youth Connections program—which
supports vulnerable young people transitioning out of school into the workplace—has
been a stunning success.
This point was also emphasised by Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive
Officer, St Vincent de Paul Society, who suggested Youth Connections is:
...a really fine exemplar of a very intelligent and innovative
model. Some might describe it as labour intensive and resource intensive in one
sense, but we are not really talking big bucks in the scheme of things. We are
talking about a fairly modest investment with enormously satisfying returns...It
is not rocket science to work out that if a program works like that it should
not only be maintained but should be expanded.
A unique service
Ms Kitchin, Youth Connections Anglicare, told the committee she was very
concerned there was no service provider who could provide similar services to Youth
Connections after its funding ceases on 31 December 2014:
There are 30,000 young people across the country who are
affected by this closure... [who] are often very disadvantaged young people. Our
long-term concerns around this program going is that we are not seeing any
reciprocal state initiatives picking up on this group of young people, and the
result will be that they will drift into unemployment and their future options
will be severely limited.
Most young Australians transition between school and employment around
the age of 18, a process that is supported by the Job Service Australia (JSA) system.
Indications from the government suggest the JSA system may be expected to take
on part of the role currently undertaken by Youth Connections under its new
model, which will be implemented on 1 July 2015.
However, Ms Shyanne Watson, Youth Connections Anglicare, highlighted
that JSA networks did not currently have the same skills as Youth Connections
providers and its case managers already had far heavier caseloads than their
Youth Connection counterparts:
Looking at job service
providers and understanding their case load, they are not youth workers, they
are case managers. The skill set is very, very different and their case load is
anywhere up to 150 on average and then rising [rather than the 20-30 for Youth
Connections case managers].
Moreover, Ms Watson made it clear that JSA does not see young people who
are not of a legal working age, and so cannot help young people aged 12 to 16
who have disengaged from education and are not yet old enough to enter
We believe, generally, if Youth Connections is not there and
another service does not have the capacity to pick those 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-,
16-year-olds up, that they will totally disengage.
This was recognised by a Jobs Australia report of January 2014, which
stated that Youth Connections should be maintained as it complemented the
current JSA system:
While JSA providers have some flexibility to refer the most
disengaged [early school leavers] to activities that focus on engagement,
personal development and foundation skills, they will often make a referral to
Youth Connections, which specialise in helping young people to re-engage in
their communities and reconnect with education and training. JSA providers
value Youth Connections as a service because it is able to offer something they
can't: a relationship‐based
and youth culture-oriented approach to engaging, developing and supporting
young people, encompassing a broad range of activities.
In addition, Mr Angelo Gavrielatos, Federal President, Australian
Education Union, was fearful that the Commonwealth could expect schools and
teachers to pick up work currently undertaken by Youth Connections:
If governments have an expectation that schools and teachers
will just keep on picking up and delivering services that have been cut by
governments, then that is absurd. The question that governments need to be
asked is: do you want teachers to teach or not? There is no doubt that, if
attention was being directed to [cover the cessation of programs like Youth
Connections], we would hear within a nanosecond some more teacher bashing about
teachers not teaching kids.
The Victorian Council of Social Services also questioned the ability of
other services to undertake this targeted work:
Work for the dole has been a spectacularly unsuccessful
program at getting people into work and keeping them there. In 2011 Work for
dole had a 22 per cent success rate in keeping young people in work or
study after 6 months. By contrast, the recently defunded Youth Connections
program had a 94 per cent success rate keeping people engaged after 6 months.
Reclink Australia is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to enhance
the lives of people experiencing disadvantage or facing significant barriers to
participation, through providing new and unique sports and arts opportunities
and specialist recreation programs. It assists some of the community's most
Typically Reclink program participants report social
isolation, drug addiction, mental health issues including schizophrenia and
depression, lack of independence, problems with the law including incarceration
and repeat offending, sexual abuse or rape, homelessness, unsatisfactory living
arrangements (both quality of accommodation and social or familial
interactions), and broken relationships as their areas of disadvantage.
Mr Rod Butterss, Director, Reclink Australia described his first day on
the ground with Reclink when he saw the effect the organisation can have on disadvantaged
I had grown up in a middle-class environment and had never
seen firsthand the effects of disadvantage, but I saw it [at the grand final
series run by RecLink in Melbourne]. I also saw what Reclink did for these
people. I saw people who were homeless, disadvantaged, underprivileged,
alcoholics and prostitutes playing together in games of AFL in that particular
instance. I saw people laughing, and I had it pointed out to me that some of
these people were living rough and had not had communication with another
person for, in some cases, weeks. You could see them laughing and you could see
them just getting a flicker of self-esteem. That, for me, was enough to embed
myself emotionally within the organisation, because it just does such amazingly
Mr Peter Cullen, Founder, Reclink Australia described the unique Reclink
The way this is done is through a simple but unique model.
What I did and other[s] recognised was that, in doing street outreach in St
Kilda and seeing people living destructive lives—you see ambulances being
called people who overdose and suicide as common conversations in that
community, particularly at that time—was that you could think how to respond to
this and what these people actually do with the day that gives purpose and structure.
We found that people need something they can immediately get involved in. The
lack of purposeful involvement—or some involvement—means is actually an
achievement in itself to get people involved, and that becomes the starting
point for so much else. Beyond the counselling, support and funding that
governments give, Reclink brings together all these groups who are funded and
supports their work. Before this there was no vehicle in existence. This
vehicle comes together through a membership model and through agency
membership—there are 380 members presently, and I think we had up to 500 at one
Mr Brian Millett, a participant in the program shared with the committee
how the program helped him:
Basically, it is about getting your body moving. A lot of
these guys, including me, did nothing for a long time. You just get into the
habit of doing nothing, because you are fearful or think 'No-one will like me,
anyway'—all that negative thinking that you get when you are inside four walls
by yourself, in a boarding house or on the street. So it is about being with
people. Just being there, straightaway there is probably a 20 per cent rise in
your mental health. It is also about harm minimisation. While they are with
Reclink, they are not knocking off [CDs]. That is the bottom line. I used that
as a stepping stone, just to stay there so that I could just get myself well
slowly. That is how I used it and a lot of people do use it. Wednesday is
football and they cannot wait for Wednesday. They belong there; they have a
connection there. That is what I needed. I needed that gap filler to get me
there. I am now going okay. I am married with a couple of kids. It was a long
time ago although, every time I tell that story, I cry. I do not want to, but
it is part of my journey. That is the bottom line. It just gets people moving,
it gets people going. Then there are offshoots.
Mr Millett also shared a powerful story from an individual he met which
shows how the program can assist people's mental health:
...I was talking to a guy from Western Storm, which is
another club. He had a mental illness, mental health issues. Months previously
his worker committed suicide through different circumstances. We were just
talking about that, just as you do. He said to me, 'I feel like killing myself
today.' I sort of looked at him, and he said, 'I knew I had cricket on, so I'm
not going to do it today.' I was blown away by that. I could tell my story and,
for me, I see it all the time. He had something to look forward to at 11 o'clock.
But at eight o'clock in the morning he is probably sitting in a bedsit thinking
about how he is going to do it. Then the bus comes, the fellow picks them up,
they go to cricket and they feel great after the game.
Commonwealth funding for Reclink
The Commonwealth provided Reclink with a specific budget line for
funding from 2008-09 to 2012-2013 of $560,000 a year.
Mr John Ballis, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Reclink, commented to the
The Reclink national program has been in place for the past
five years, with an amount of $560,000 per annum. It was funded as a specific
line item in the federal budget. The funding had not been adjusted with CPI
wage increases since it was initially provided and, over the five-year period,
the capacity of the organisation and the capability of the organisation have
been outstanding in terms of scaling up the benefits of the $560,000.
Reclink's Commonwealth funding ceased on 31 June 2014 and it was not
funded in the Abbott government's first budget. Reclink has other sources of
funding, which will mean some elements of its work will continue, including from
state and territory governments, private organisations, and its own fundraising
activities. However, Mr Ballis told the committee the loss of federal funding
will mean a substantial reduction in their ability to work at the national
...because we are a national program, the national funding has
been the glue which enables the organisation to scale-up our partnerships with
state governments, local government, community agencies, corporates and donors.
Mr Cullen, Founder, Reclink, told the committee that the program is able
to engage people who are difficult to engage through traditional welfare
services, making the program:
...extremely important to disadvantaged people right across
Australia because of its reach and also its potential reach if it is
appropriately supported. As was said before, Reclink is the only organisation
in Australia doing what we are doing, so it is quite unique in that structure.
We use the word 'disadvantaged' in many communities across Australia, but we
are looking at complex disadvantage. We are looking at people who do not
frequent regular sporting clubs, so it is unique in the structure in which we
are able to reach people. These people have never been reached in this way,
because there has never been a structure to reach this group.
Reclink has a very flexible delivery model, especially as it works with
local partners to deliver programs specifically targeting the needs of local
communities, which means it has had excellent results in diverse fields. Mr
Ballis gave the following examples of successful Reclink programs:
providing housing for disadvantaged people in the ACT, as well as
security and safety programs alongside ACT Justice;
developing and delivering employment-readiness programs in
partnering with Indigenous communities and organisations to
create pathways for people transitioning out of corrective services in the
in delivering Certificate IV-level training to disadvantaged
people in Victoria alongside training providers;
introducing the iconic "Choir of Hard Knocks", made up
of disadvantaged people from Melbourne, to the Australian psyche via an ABC
A recently released study by La Trobe University into Reclink's effectiveness
over four years described the program as 'a catalyst for a better life for
participants', and found it was successful in:
breaking down the barriers to isolation;
encouraging self-esteem and self-confidence – reduced stress and
improved physical condition – weight loss and increased
acquiring skills, training and pursuing employment opportunities;
providing a sense of community, greater connection;
establishing and maintaining friendships; and
A unique service
Mr Ballis, Reclink, suggested that Reclink's expertise and long-held
relationships meant other organisations would not be able to deliver the same
services for disengaged Australians:
When we look at the depth of opportunities and the
demonstrated benefits of the program, it is a very unique program particularly
across Australia. There are currently no organisations that have the expertise
or the demonstrated capability of using sport recreation to engage so many
disadvantaged communities across Australia Our hope and aspiration as an
organisation is that the government will see its way clear to reinstate funding
and hopefully provide sustainable funding for the program now and into the
Increased costs for the Commonwealth from cuts to Youth Connections and
The committee heard evidence that cutting funding to Youth
Connections and Reclink Australia will lead to increased costs for government
in the future.
Dr John Falzon, St Vincent de Paul, highlighted these increased
costs to the Commonwealth:
Every dollar you pull out of a program such as Reclink or
Youth Connections—a program that is looking at very professionally and humanely
supporting rather than humiliating people—we are going to see increased costs
down the line in the criminal justice system, in the social support system, in
the health system and so forth.
Ms Rebekha Sharkie, National Executive Officer, Youth Connections, told a Senate
inquiry earlier this year that Youth Connections reduces Commonwealth
expenditure on welfare payments:
...if you look at the individual costs to provide [Youth
Connections'] service, it is between $2,000 and $4,000—that is what the
department tells us it costs annually to assist a young person. We see that as
cost effective compared with around $20,000 if you are on a Centrelink [Newstart]
Ms Kitchin also noted that Youth Connections saved government expenditure
on income support for young people:
At the very, very minimum, even just going onto a Centrelink [Youth
Allowance] income —$5,500 a year—would be more than what you would be paying to
keep someone in the Youth Connections program. That does not in any way bring
in the cost of the mental health services, couch surfing with friends,
homelessness services et cetera.... the long-term cost is quite significant.
Ms Watson highlighted the risks that disengaged youth may face,
including increased drug and alcohol abuse, crime or prostitution, and
suggested a rise in these social problems may increase Commonwealth
Once they have totally disengaged, we know that the modelling
shows that those young people generally become engaged in other activities.
Those other activities can be risk-taking behaviours where they do not have the
skills and they do not necessarily have the cognitive ability to recognise that
this is not the right path to be walking down. Unfortunately, we believe that
the engagement in care and protection type services in the ACT and community
justice services will be much higher.
Reclink's submission stated its national program was excellent value for
money for the government as it could reduce participants' reliance on welfare
in the long-term by:
...effectively engag[ing] thousands of disadvantaged people in
sport and recreation participation as a pathway to skills development, training
and employment opportunities.
Mr Cullen stressed that Reclink assisted people to take control of their
own lives in a way that other welfare models did not:
We believe we found a particular need, something that was
actually missing in welfare and not utilised. I think governments, I would
assume across the world, almost have to provide a crisis responses. There is a
lot in welfare that stops people from drowning but not a lot that helps people
to swim. It is movement, activity, involvement and connection. If you can get
people passionately involved in one thing and they can create belonging in
their life, that gives them inner power to be a catalyst to move forward around
other opportunities. As simple as it is, it is still a unique program. As a
matter of fact, nobody else has picked this area up.
The committee is dismayed the government has decided to cease funding
for Youth Connections and Reclink Australia as part of its unfair and economically
unsound budget. These decisions will jeopardise the ability of many young
Australians to stay engaged in education or find training or work
opportunities. It is also likely to lead to many disadvantaged people
disengaging from their local community and, over the long term, increase
welfare dependency and expenditure for the Commonwealth in other areas such as
health and justice.
The committee notes with concern the results of Mission Australia's
Annual Youth Survey which clearly shows that young people, particularly the
most disadvantaged, need support with the transition from school to work, school
to training or training to work. In this context, the need for a program like Youth
Connections was specifically highlighted:
The Youth Connections program, which provides support to
around 30,000 disadvantaged young people each year to re-engage with education
or employment, has been an important program of support for young people at a
difficult time of transition. A program of equivalent scale and purpose is
needed to address the persistent high unemployment amongst youth.
The evidence received by the committee shows that Youth Connections is a
very successful program that plays an invaluable role in assisting young people
who have disengaged from their education and training.
The defunding of Youth Connections is profoundly unfair. It will hurt
the most vulnerable in our society and increases the risk of them falling into
poverty or homelessness.
The committee strongly agrees with the evidence given by Ms Cassandra Goldie,
ACOSS, who stated that:
It is extraordinary to us that any government would simply
cease a program which has so obviously provided long-term benefits for young
people who are disadvantaged in any labour market environment and at risk of
long term unemployment.
The committee recognises the valuable role played by JSA network services.
However, it is clear JSA providers will not be able to provide the services
that Youth Connections currently offer. Currently JSA and Youth Connections
work in a complementary manner. If the JSA network is expected to pick up the
work of Youth Connections, it is still not clear how it will be restructured
and resourced to do this effectively by the government under its new model from
1 July 2015.
The committee notes that the government has announced the Industry
Skills Fund will provide specific funding for pilot programs targeted to youth
in regional areas who are disengaged from education, training or employment.
While extra assistance for regional youth is welcome, these programs will
provide only 10,500 places which is insufficient to address the scale of youth
unemployment across the country.
In contrast, Youth Connections, is already supporting 30,000 disadvantaged
young people each year, it is an established, successful program, reaching more
age groups, with trained people and established pathways.
The committee is particularly concerned about young Australians who are
not legally old enough to work, but who have disengaged from their education. Without
Youth Connections, these young people, many of whom are in vulnerable
situations, will be at serious risk of falling through the cracks and not being
able to access any government assistance whatsoever.
The committee also notes the decision to axe funding for Youth
Connections does not make economic sense. The modest Commonwealth expenditure
on Youth Connections, under $80 million a year nationally, saves a far greater
sum for government in direct Centrelink income support payments alone.
The committee recommends that the government reinstate funding for Youth
The committee recognises the valuable role played by Reclink Australia in
assisting disadvantaged Australians find their way to better health, economic
independence and take on productive and leading roles in their local
It is clear to the committee Reclink Australia is a program that
delivers results across the country on an incredibly tight budget. In doing
this, it not only assists and inspires many individuals, but also reduces
pressure on Commonwealth expenditure in many areas, including the health,
mental health, welfare and justice systems.
It is also apparent no other organisation has the national reach Reclink
Australia has developed, as well as the flexible model that allows it to connect
with so many diverse communities.
The committee recommends that the government reinstate Commonwealth
funding for Reclink Australia immediately.
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