Strong, powerful and resilient, young leaders from across the Kimberley came together during March and May, 2019 to create momentum and movement towards establishing effective, community-led initiatives to dismantle the circumstances attributing to the high rate of Aboriginal youth suicide in their region.

The Empowered Young Leaders project continues the progress made at the 2017 Aarnja Ltd Forum through two forums in Kununurra and Broome.

The project sits within the larger Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial, which will come to an end in June 2020, concluding four years of work.

Funded by the Federal Government, the trial is administered by the Western Australia Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) in partnership with the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) which drives and coordinates the work on the ground.

Jacob Smith, front-line representative and facilitator of the Empowered Young Leaders forums and KAMS Social and Emotional Wellbeing employee, began his journey working within the health and wellness space after attending the Aarnja Forum.

“It’s been an amazing process in my own development, there’s been so much change within myself in the last two years being exposed to these high-level conversations being a part of these forums around so many passionate young people that live in this world.

“It’s opened my eyes up to collaborate with them and create something we can use [to] our advantage.”

The Forum delivered the 2019 Kimberley Empowered Young Leaders Forum Report which put forward 7 priorities and over 30 recommendations to State and Federal Governments.

“It created that space for us to have conversations as young people figuring out what we can do to guide change in our region … We were able to really hit home with what we thought were the main contributing factors and driving forces, and what we thought were our best recommendations in terms of tackling those issues,” Mr Smith said.

KAMS Chief Operating Officer, Rob McPhee said enabling a platform for young voices to speak on issues surrounding young people was a driving force of the trial.

“The Empowered Young Leaders project has been an intentional program to enable young people across the Kimberley to come together and talk about their issues and support each other and create a network that can be built upon,” Mr McPhee said.

“It’s critical that we are enabling young people to share their views of the world and how the world affects them so that any decisions that are being made have youth input.”

“It’s not just about involving young people in young people business it’s about allowing them to have a voice in issues and conversations they wouldn’t normally have access to.”

The forums were driven from a strength-based perspective, aiming to celebrate the strength and resilience in community.

“We really wanted it to go out in a way that changed that narrative of how young people are viewed in our region and we wanted to shine a light on the strength and resilience that we have here,” Mr Smith said.

“The young people didn’t want to only talk about the misery and despair, all the negative stuff. I was inspired … they were saying enough is enough, we are powerful, strong individuals and human beings and we have got to start being seen like that and believing we are that,” added Mr McPhee.

“I think that is such a powerful message for young people across Australia. It’s not about adults sitting around fixing problems for young people, it’s about empowering young people to take charge … to have the voice so we can listen.”

With the trial concluding in June, an evaluation is being commissioned to understand the results and plan for the years ahead.

Mr McPhee noted the trial was Commonwealth funded and involved members of the WA Government in trial activities, however the pathway forward involves the WA Government response to the Message Stick Report and the Inquest into the 13 Deaths of Children and Young Persons in the Kimberley Region released early February of this year.

“The State Government has released its statement of intent which is a preliminary response to the two reports and 86 different recommendations … KAMS made it very clear that our expectation is that we do not see another Coroner’s Report, that we have a clearly laid out plan on how the State intends to address each of the 86 recommendations.

“Our plan is to take what we have learnt from the trial, work with the State and Commonwealth Governments to design a program of work moving forward … this is not a quick fix.

“We need to be working towards this in a very planned and coordinated way, the next step for us is about bringing the community, Commonwealth and State governments together to look at the next steps of planning.”

By Rachael Knowles