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“Through Oztag we’ve created a community and a family – we are there for each other”

There are 24 young Aboriginal men (aged between 15-24) engaged in this OzTag program all who are or have been involved with the justice system. The program is having a positive impact on young people’s interactions with the criminal justice system.

The team currently has 24 young Aboriginal men engaged in this program, as well as a wait list. Many of these young men would never attend a “program” but are turning up for training and games and asking for more time as a team. The OzTag program links in with the work of Mounty Yarns. Mounty Yarns is a youth-led project about the lived experiences of Aboriginal young people in Mt Druitt, which supports the elevation of young people’s voices, valuing young people as the experts in their own lives and acknowledging that they have the capacity to identify their own solutions.The idea for an Oz Tag team came from Just Reinvest NSW (JRNSW) Youth Ambassador Isaiah Sines, who grew up in Mt Druitt and has a strong connection with youth in the area. Aboriginal young people wanted a safe place to have fun and form a community through OzTag. Previously, they would get harassed by the police when playing OzTag alone. Young people in Mt Druitt partnered with the Children’s Court Assistance Scheme (CCAS), Infinite Hope Aboriginal Corporation and JRNSW to support the team. This program being youth led is one of the reasons it is successful. Isaiah featured in an article in the Guardian talking about the OzTag comp and what it means to the young people in Mt Druitt. Terleaha Williams, another JRNSW Youth Ambassador, works with Isaiah to coordinate the team and support follow up case work and youth engagement. Terleaha’s artwork will also feature on the uniforms of the youth-led OzTag program in Mt Druitt.

Many youth services operate 9am-5pm. Consistent feedback from young people points to the need for support and engaging activities is after 5pm. Crime statistics point to high policing and crime rates after hours. Offering a pro social activity in community after hours can reduce contact with police and the justice system in an area where young people are overpoliced and targeted.Multiple long-term research studies have identified key factors that are relevant for reintegration. These include quality of social relationships, practical assistance, the formation of strong social bonds, employment and other community engagement pathways, and the development of an identity outside of the criminal justice system. Together, the OzTag team and their supporters are providing environments that creates engagement and encourages being active in community. To stay out of the criminal justice system, there is a need for genuine pathways to be built in community. Together we are assisting in connecting our young people with referral pathways to education, employment, housing, and other social services.

The OzTag program also feeds into the broader advocacy of the Mounty Yarns project. Mounty Yarns is a youth-led project that gathers stories, expertise and knowledge by and from Aboriginal young people with lived experience of the criminal justice system and the impact it has on them and their families. These stories will form a resource that will reflect the experiences, strengths and resilience of young people living in Mt Druitt. Young people will then be supported to advocate for change with this resource, which will also have ideas and suggestions for how to best partner with Aboriginal young people to meet their needs.

These young men have already met with the Executive Director of Youth Justice to share some of their experiences within the youth justice system. Isaiah has also shared the experiences and success of the team with the Advocate for Children and Young People as well as the National Children’s Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

 

Terleaha and Isaiah are creating a link and elevating the voices of young people in Mt Druitt into change processes that show that young people and community members have the solutions, that the way policing in Mt Druitt happens needs to change and that there is a need for more culturally appropriate, earlier and holistic support for young people.

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