In her new book, Author and General Manager of Whitelion (a charity supporting Australia’s vulnerable young people), Rachel Porter delves into the lives of nine Australian men from troubled backgrounds who have lived through incarceration and managed to change their lives around.
Especially pertinent for students and teachers alike, Ms Porter’s book provides a perspective on how easy it is for Australian youth to find themselves in trouble, as well as how much work can be involved in rising above it.
In 2013-14, one in 433 young people between 10 and 17 were under youth justice supervision in Australia. We recently interviewed Ms Porter to find out a little more about her book and what a career in helping vulnerable youths have taught her about assistance, prevention and rehabilitation.
How will the stories of the men in this book speak to both teachers and parents?
The stories in the book take the reader on a journey of the turbulent childhoods of nine men who have been through very abusive circumstances some of them were incarcerated as children but in the end they have gone onto happy, healthy lives often giving back considerably to society.
It’s really important to understand the perspective of young people involved in these situations. What influences were in their life that led them to being incarcerated? What role did adults have in their life leading up to the time of their offending? What could the adults in their lives have done more or less of to help these young people and lead them on a more constructive journey?
It also speaks to the potential within each individual – every person has the possibility of a positive future regardless of their current circumstances.
What advice would you give to educators to help identify vulnerable children at risk and how should they respond?
It’s important that educators notice behavior changes in students to help identify early warning signs of vulnerability in children and young people. Some early warning sign indicators could include:
- Changes in behaviour or mood
- Staring episodes / withdrawing from others
- Eating and sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated startle response
- Irritability and outbursts of anger
- Hypervigilance – jumpy or fidgety
- Restricted or excessive display of emotions
Remember that adolescents may display some of these characteristics as part of being a normal teenager. What educators need to look for in terms of risk factors are extreme or prolonged changes in behavior that are getting in the way of the young person’s daily functioning.
Young people are also likely to take risks in response to life difficulties or stressful events so special care and attention should be given at these times.
Are there programs or organisations that teachers and parents can offer support to?
Whitelion and its range of programs to support young people is the obvious choice that I would mention in this context. Volunteering opportunities exist for mentoring, mobile outreach, employment, youth programs and back of house support and we appreciate any offer of assistance.
Also, the importance of prevention programs in schools can’t be underestimated. Whitelion has a range of preventative wellbeing programs for young people through Stride. These programs build the physical, social, emotional skills of young people to equip them with skills for life. Stride run workshops for young people in schools and community settings as well as providing teachers with training to help support their students.
What can the average person do to help change the culture of detention that has been highlighted as an increasing problem in Australia?
We should be challenging our own assumptions first and then think collectively about how we respond as a society.
Some questions we could ask ourselves could be:
- What do we think about young people in detention?
- Do we understand the circumstances that may have led them there?
- What do these young people need to help redirect their lives positively so that they can become helpful and contributing members of society?
Once we understand the issues involved, then we can move collectively towards a change in culture. We can urge our politicians, leaders and detention workers to treat young people in detention as people – giving them respect, education, support and opportunities to do better in their future.
Doin’ Time (Rockpool Publishing, $29.99) by Rachel Porter was launched in September this year.