Blue Light Victoria Youth Conference 2016

This year Blue Light held a Youth Conference which aimed to provide a professional development opportunity to police members, organisations working in the youth space and the general public. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers both in the academic space but also from some who are working on the ground with young people.

AC Stephen Leane - Conference Speaker

AC Stephen Leane – Victoria Police

The conference was held at the Richmond Football Club on the 11th of October. It was a full day starting off with an opening from Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane. AC Leane started out by reiterating that less young people are committing offences, however the offences are more violent and recidivism is up. Peers are the strongest influence when it comes to committing crimes, when young people ‘don’t fit in’, it can be the start of trouble. AC Leane believes that there are many things that are contributing to criminal activity in young people including the drug ice, youth carrying weapons because they don’t feel safe and feel the need to protect themselves, unemployment and racism amongst others.

Through discussion with young people it is clear that they see school as the best deterrent of offending and they believe that expelling kids from school should be banned. Young people often look to schools for guardianship – one constant in their lives. ‘Lock-out’ is a common term used by young people who are disconnected. A positive outcome of the recent Chief Commissioners Youth Summit has been that Anglicare has raised the age for leaving their system from 18 years to 21 years, DHHS are also reviewing their services that are delivered to young people.

Tom Brunzell - Conference Speaker

Tom Brunzell – Berry Street Educational Model


Our next speaker was Tom Brunzell. Tom began his career in education as a Teacher for America (TFA) corps at NYC P.S. #28 in the Bronx. He received his bachelor degree (B.A.) from Yale University, then a teaching masters degree (M.S.T.) from Pace University and a school leadership masters degree (Ed.M.) from the Bank Street School of Education. Tom presents internationally on topics of transforming school cultures, high expectations for differentiated instruction, trauma-informed practice, wellbeing and the application of positive psychology, and effective school leadership.

Tom spoke about trauma informed practice and how it impacts a young person’s life and that education is an invaluable tool for those working with youth. Education is a protective factor that young people need in their life. Berry St Education Model looks at how to keep young people affected by trauma in school and how to help them to learn effectively and teach them emotional control. The inability to self soothe and emotional dysregulation is now considered to be a cause of aggressive and violent behaviour which can also lead to the use of maladaptive coping such as the use of drugs and alcohol. It is essential for us to recognise that violent crime is not the problem – it is the result of many problems. These are very powerful and thought provoking words. Research is telling us that we need to choose rehabilitation over incarceration and develop intervention that identifies risks.

Trauma:  an overwhelming experience that can undermine the individual’s belief that the world is good and safe.

Directly experiencing trauma, witnessing another trauma, learning about traumatic events or exposure to adversity through stories can lead to trauma – culminating in stress related disorders such as PTSD. It is a fact that 40% of children are trauma effected.

Tom talked about the 3 most important cultural factors; love, self-regulation and gratitude and how important these are for young people to succeed in life. Other important factors are persistence, Vitality/Zest, Social intelligence & hope/optimism. The more of these that you have the better your outcomes will be.

Jarryd Williams - Conference Speaker

STREAT Jarryd Williams

After a morning tea prepared by STREAT we had Jarryd Williams from STREAT. Jarryd is responsible for all youth programs and vocational training provision. He is a multiple award-winning youth worker with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and more than 10 years managing teams of youth workers, social workers and psychologists. Jarryd was presenting at the conference about STREAT and the role they play in helping young people achieve.

Starting in 2009 STREAT started with a small coffee cart (which wasn’t such a great idea!) they then moved to a café in Melbourne Central. They are a social enterprise program which over the last five years has worked with more than 450 young people. They are aiming to be working with 250 youth each year by 2017, STREAT make it their mission to work with the most disadvantaged young people in our community.

Jarryd believes that the most important factor when dealing with young people is communication. All of the kids that are involved with the program have mental health issues and have experienced trauma. He believes that STREAT provides them with a place where they belong and where they get lots of empathy and compassion. Research has shown that recidivism decreases once belonging begins.

One of the program that is on offer to recidivists runs for 20 weeks and goes through all the aspects of hospitality including on the job training whilst also providing access to any support services that are needed. The program also works hard on changing the thinking around the fact that – crime (makes money) V social inclusion (modest financial return).


Pamela Snow - Conference Speaker

Pamela Snow


Professor Pamela Snow had the most interesting title for her conference presentation “Yep. Nup. Dunno. Whatever. Looking at the everyday communication abilities of adolescents in the youth justice system.

A Professor and Head of the Rural Health School at the Bendigo campus of La Trobe University. Pamela’s research conducted in Victoria and New South Wales youth justice settings shows that around 50% of young offenders struggle to understand complex instructions and are not effective communicators of their own thoughts and feelings.

Research (Hart & Risley, 1995) shows that socioeconomic status effects the exposure that children have to words with children of parents on welfare benefits at 616 words per hour, children of working class parents – 1251 words per hour and children of professional parents – 2153 words per hours. By age 4 this equates to children of professional parents having a 30 million word advantage over those children of parents on welfare. A longitudinal follow up of the children in this study at ages 9 & 10 showed strong links between language exposure and academic outcomes.

So what does this have to do with young offenders?

Language difficulties make it hard to:

  • Tell a story (eg. provide evidence, speak up for oneself)
  • Consider listener perspective (i.e judge what the listener needs to know/ already knows/ may not already know)
  • Use specific vocabulary (instead of “you know”, “thing”)
  • Understand idiomatic/ figurative language, even at a simple level
  • Get a joke/ discern good humour from intended offence
  • Be an assertive communicator who can share the load, eg, can
    • Correct a mis-understanding on part of the other speaker
    • Avoid and/ or repair inadvertent offence
    • Reflect on one’s own communicative competence

Most importantly – What can you do?

Blue Lights President and Superintendent of Road Policing Debra Robertson says “I am of the firm belief that all police members by the very nature of the ‘office of constable’ are in fact, youth officers”. With this in mind it could be said that everyone could take Pamelas advice on board to:

  • Remember that behaviour is a form of communication
  • Assume that language skills are compromised
  • Recognise that minimalist responses may be the best the young person can do
  • Simplify your own language (avoid sarcasm, metaphors, idioms, double entendre)
  • Minimise distractions for important interactions
  • Allow extra time for processing and responding
  • Get the young person’s attention before engaging
  • Show interest and engage when the young person opens up
  • Remember that young people go to great lengths to conceal language difficulties

Taking a break from our speakers we were entertained by a performance from Johnathan Binge. Johnathan is a young indigenous boy who has both been a participant and a volunteer at Copper Jo’s Preston (Darebin) Blue Lights. Johnathan and his friend sang a few songs for the crowd,


Mark Halsey presented as a follow on from the Chief Commissioners Youth Summit.

Mark is a Professor of Criminology in the School of Law, Flinders University, and co-author of the book Young Offenders: Crime, Prison and the Struggle to Desist. He has received three successive Australian Research Council grants and currently holds a four-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship examining the causes, experiences and consequences of intergenerational incarceration.

Marks recent presentation at the Chief Commissioners Youth Summit was both insightful and relevant to the policing of young people today and as stated earlier there have already been changes made as a result of the summit. Mark spoke about the effects of repeat offending and repeated periods of detention. How can people break this cycle? He demonstrates with a timeline of a person and the events (both positive and negative) along with the periods of incarceration they have in their lives. It becomes very evident that it is a cycle that is very hard to break and to get out of.


Our last speaker for the conference was Doctor Kate Barrelle, also from STREAT. As a clinical and forensic psychologist, Kate’s career has centred around people and their well-being. Her early career focused on community mental health, and also abused and neglected children in care. Since moving to Melbourne to co-found STREAT with Rebecca Scott, Kate completed her PhD which involved interviews with former radicals about disengagement from extremism and their subsequent societal reintegration. In addition to sitting on the STREAT Board, Kate works as a freelance consultant with a particular focus on projects that aim to assist disenfranchised youth attain sustainable livelihood and belonging through mentoring, skills training and holistic social support. Today Kate was here to talk to everyone about worker fatigue and taking care of ourselves when working with high risk young people directly experiencing trauma.

According to the American Psychiatric Association directly experiencing trauma, witnessing another’s trauma, learning about traumatic events, or exposure to aversive details can lead to trauma and stress related disorders such as reactive attachment disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or acute stress.

Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper. The symptoms are:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Overwhelmed
  • Fearful
  • Decrease cognitive ability
  • Inability to embrace complexity
  • Not listening
  • Emotional rollercoaster
  • Avoidance
  • Guilt and minimising
  • Poor self-care
  • Impaired judgement
    • Less exposure to client suffering – more resilience

As workers who are susceptible to Compassion Fatigue it is important to have strategies for prevention. These include:

  • Understand what it is (psycho education)
  • Reflective/clinical supervision (debriefing)
  • Humour
  • Ongoing skills training
  • Self-assessment of compassion fatigue & life balance
  • Balance case load
  • Self-care buddy system
  • Exercise and good nutrition
  • Flexible scheduling – substantial breaks

Strategies for intervention

  • Awareness
  • Mindfulness
  • Cognitive behavioural intervention
  • Peer family support and assertive self-care
  • Caseload adjustment
  • Referral to professionals
  • Anti-stress kit – family and friends to be aware – pets – positivity – reading
    • Mindfulness – deliberate fullness of attention in moment – observe reality of present moment – being present without striving or judging

As you have read the conference was a day that was full of relevant information.

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