In the last three years, the population of Ellenbrook and its surrounding areas has doubled. Our population will continue to increase substantially over the coming decade. The area has the highest fertility rate in the City of Swan and over 25% of the local population is under the age of 12.
Unfortunately, this exponential population growth has not been accompanied by adequate social services and physical infrastructure. Ongoing State Government inaction and poor planning is having an increasingly negative impact on our local area.
Our community now experiences the highest rate of domestic violence in the East metropolitan area; there are well-documented mental health and suicide issues amongst our young people; youth unemployment is increasing; public schools are shockingly over-crowded; and there is an alarming over-representation of children, as both perpetrators and victims of crime.
I have conducted extensive community consultation over the past 10 months. Youth issues are repeatedly raised as being of primary concern to local residents.
On 15th December 2016, I held a public forum to hear from the community about their concerns and discuss potential solutions. A range of local stakeholders were invited, including every local school principal and P&C group and the Ellenbrook police. Local parents (and their children) attended, and we were also joined by a number of agencies with an interest in this topic, including:
- Youth Affairs Council of WA
- Youth Focus
- City of Swan
- Swan Communities for Children
We discussed three main topics:
- What good things are happening for youth in our local area?
- What issues are local youth facing?
- What would you like to see happen in our local area, over the short/medium/long term?
Topic One: What good things are happening for youth in our area?
The Youth Forum participants told us that:
- Ellenbrook has a fantastic sense of community – people are very supportive and want to help each other out.
- The towns are well designed (albeit a bit isolated from major entertainment facilities, hospitals, jobs and major population centres).
- The ‘Cool Room’ youth service is great, but only open for 3 hours, twice a week and its location and size is not ideal.
- There are some ‘one off’ activities available for youth (e.g. film nights at the Ellenbrook Performing Arts Centre), but awareness needs to be increased.
Topic Two: What issues are local youth facing?
Youth Forum participants told us that:
- Sporting, entertainment and recreational facilities (particularly indoor facilities) are inadequate.
- The lack of public transport is a major barrier and stops kids from accessing entertainment, jobs and other youth services.
- There is a growing need for mental health and other support services, for both youth and their families (including targeted programmes for specific groups, including indigenous, migrant and LGBTI communities).
- Cyber bullying is a very real issue for local youth.
- There are very few services/activities for older Children (8-13).
- Youth unemployment is a growing problem, and kids have no way of easily accessing jobs outside the local area.
- Drug abuse, alcohol and violence are of real concern.
- Recently announced funding for support services and programmes is often only for one-off or pilot programmes. Long term commitments are required.
- There is severe over-crowding in local schools (particularly at Ellenbrook Secondary College).
- Young people are considered a threat, rather than members of the community. We often ignore the fantastic things that our kids contribute to our community or overlook the leadership they very often demonstrate.
- Poor availability of support services through schools (including government cuts to funding for education assistants).
Topic Three: What would you like to see happen in our local area?
Forum Participants told us:
- We need to harness the positivity and community spirit in Ellenbrook.
- Initiatives are needed which encourage the emergence of groups and clubs that provide services for kids and youth.
- It is important to raise awareness of the services and activities that are currently available for young people in the local area.
- Better transport links are needed, so youth are not so heavily reliant on ‘parents taxi service’ for access to activities, employment options and services.
- Connections between local kids should be fostered – particularly through local schools.
- Safe, locally run and appropriately resourced spaces (real and virtual) are needed, where kids can come together and access services (“hubs”).
- Real commitment is needed to services and facilities, not just ‘one-off’ programmes.
- Entertainment facilities, such as a cinema, indoor recreational centre or pool, would be very beneficial to the local community.
- There is a need to engage, assist and educate parents (particularly for help on bullying).
- There is a need to recognise gender-specific activities and programs (boys and girls do not necessarily share the same interests).
I would like to thank all the people who attended my Youth Forum. This issue is so important to our local community – it’s vital that we have as much local input and engagement as possible.
I am very keen to hear your views on this issue. If you were not able to attend our forum, there is still an opportunity for you to provide feedback through my website: swanhills.walabor.org.au/youth-fb
I will take all of the feedback received through this consultation process and outline our plan for youth services in Swan Hills in the coming weeks.