Mission Australia has highlighted the voices and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in their new report, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Report: Youth Survey 2019.

The report analyses findings from the Youth Survey 2019, highlighting that compared to non-Indigenous participants, Indigenous young people noted higher levels of concern in areas of domestic and family violence, drugs, discrimination, alcohol and suicide.

Almost 30 per cent of Indigenous young people reported they had been bullied in the last 12 months, compared to 20.3 per cent of non-Indigenous respondents.

Indigenous youth were nearly three times more likely than their non-Indigenous peers to have experienced living with no fixed address, lived in a refuge or within transitional accommodation during their lives.

Whilst over 50 per cent of Indigenous respondents noted they were happy with their lives and felt positive about the future, 3 in 10 participants indicated they suffered forms of distress, and almost double this proportion felt ‘very sad/sad’ with life as a whole.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the report highlights the shared aspirations of young people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as well as the unique concerns expressed by Indigenous youth.

“While there are many positive experiences and hopes voiced by young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our report, the unique challenges and concerns expressed really drive home that we must do more to improve … wellbeing, [and] properly support and house young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in need, so they can thrive,” Toomey said.

Toomey also noted the “critical shortage of culturally and age appropriate support services” that respond to the needs and support Indigenous youth, particularly around homelessness.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people must be central to the co-design and co-implementation of the services that they need,” he said.

“It’s also vital and logical that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have greater influence over the policies, programs and services that affect them.”.

“Our young people have made clear; it is time our Government developed a national plan to end homelessness with clear targets to end Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness.

“We also need a strong focus on increasing the number of youth-specific social housing options that are co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. A permanent increase to income support would also go a long way to keep all young people and their families out of poverty and homelessness.”

In response to the report findings, Mission Australia joined forces with Professor Tom Calma AO, Chancellor at the University of Canberra and Co-Chair of the Voice to Parliament Senior Advisory Group, to call for more appropriate support services, co-designed and delivered with Indigenous youth.

“I’m pleased that there is much to celebrate in this report. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents say they are happy, they’re engaged in education, they highly value their family and friendships, are confident in their ability to achieve their goals and are optimistic about their futures,” said Professor Calma.

“However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people also told us that they’re facing unique difficulties such as unacceptably high levels of bullying, that we know is linked to racial discrimination, as well as poor mental health, homelessness and insecure housing. They also experience a range of personal concerns in much higher proportions that non-Indigenous young people.”

Professor Calma acknowledged the role of Government in addressing the issues highlighted by participants.

“It is interesting that the issues are very common, and they are still common. It does need governments to work with us to really make a change,” he said.

“Because, like a lot of things, they continually get rehashed, people say this is what we need and there’s no response—even though there is work happening in the youth area, there isn’t enough.”

The report has outlined eight recommendations, including:

  • Developing a national plan to end Aboriginal and Torres Strait homelessness
  • Ensuring a permanent increase to income support payments
  • Supporting schools to stamp out racism and discrimination through education
  • Designing culturally safe and appropriate programs which work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people’s perspectives at the centre of service design.

“We must build a better future for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young person, so they have the support, connection, stability and opportunities they need to flourish,” said Professor Calma.

“There’s no one agency that needs to respond, we all as a society need to respond and whether it is a justice issue, whether it is education, whether it’s employment, or housing. These can be achieved if we do it right.

“I urge politicians and bureaucrats to read the report, respond to the recommendations and hear the voices of Australia’s young people and particularly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.”

By Rachael Knowles