Child care worker Lily Hotko, 19, is concerned that young locals are slipping through the cracks and not accessing services due to long waiting lists.
Child care worker Lily Hotko, 19, is concerned that young locals are slipping through the cracks and not accessing services due to long waiting lists. Marc Stapelberg

'Give the broken youth something to lean on'

No support offered

I AM writing to you about a deep concern of mine for the young children and youth of my generation within our community. Many people know me as a young person from Lismore NSW.

I'd like to see a change within our community that offers better support for youth and children.

I recently had my best friend sent to jail for heavy crimes that he has committed. I am in no way writing to justify these behaviours, however, I would like to see a better support system put in place for the people who find themselves in these situations.

My friend was just 14 years old when he began this journey of drugs and crime. He went to every school in our town but was kicked out of almost every one. His mother cried out for help to the teachers, youth workers and services within our towns but little or no support was offered.

He is now 21 years old. Stuck in the same system.

How does it go this far without one teacher following up where he is? How can our schools kick a student out but not check on their well-being or offer support? Why is it that it seems to be the children who complete school who get supported, but not the ones who don't?

I've sat with him and lawyers while he has been broken and said he wants to slit his wrists and the response from majority of these services has been "We will see if we can offer you support and get back to you”... with no response whatsoever. He would then get himself into deeper hurt which led to trouble.

I have sat with a young 14-year-old in our very own community right now in 2019 while they have said to me they attend school two days a week and on the other days they stay out and drink alcohol and avoid their families due to domestic violence. Why are FACS not involved? Their only option seems to be to take themselves to a youth worker and see if they will help but it generally takes appointment after appointment before they actually get any practical support or help.

I recently sat with a 15-year-old girl who has been homeless, living under the Lismore bridge in a tent. When she went to Centrelink and explained her situation, desperate for support, their response was "it looks like you have been successful with couch surfing so you are not on the top of our priority list”. HOW? According to the Lismore Echo News, the Northern Rivers has the highest number of homeless people in NSW, and nearly half of them are children or young adults.

I've seen crime rates increase, children rob our local supermarkets to get things they need because that seems to be the fastest way for them to get what they need right now. How can we expect young children from as young as 14 years old to reach out and find their own help when they're emotionally drained in every single way? And how can we get angry at people for the crime and wrong they're doing while we are offering them little to no support?

I would like to see social workers at the skate parks offering free BBQs on a Friday afternoon or people out on the streets at 1am in Lismore offering support to the children who are on drugs and alcohol. I am aware of 17 year olds who deal drugs who I have reported to the police and not seen any result. I currently go out and sit with these children who I barely know and just listen to them.

But why am I their only safe place when I am just a 19-year-old with no qualifications whatsoever. I'd like, rather than all the charity and Church's having everything within their buildings, to see people on our streets as a safe person for these children to speak to. I'd like to see Red Frogs organisations on our streets because I truly believe with all of me that if we actually invested into the wellbeing of our youth in our city that crime rates would drop and suicide in our city would drop. At what point will our youth's voices be heard?

I have sat with teachers and parents who have had this discussion with me and who have said that the absolute lack of support they faced while trying to reach out is appalling - and I would like to see that changed. I'd like to see support workers in our schools reaching out to children who aren't attending school and stop expecting young children to find their own way when the majority of them have no idea what to do or where to start. I believe this is a matter that has been swept under the mat in our community and there has not been enough awareness raised for this matter. I'd like to see rather than footage and judgment being posted all over Big Robs' Facebook page with the majority of our town sitting back and judging these children, support being offered to help them get on track.

Lismore has one of the largest ice epidemics in our country and when I've spoken to a lot of children who have turned to this drug they have said it's because they feel as though they had no other option. According to commissioner Dan Howard, "Lismore is one of the regional communities where the use of crystal methamphetamine is of particular concern.” These children truly felt they had more support from the use of this drug than they did from our social services and that is something that I find appalling. Crime statistics from Lismore show that in 2018 some 129 people out of every 100,000 were identified as ice users or in possession of the drug.

These children reached out to every support network and were not followed up once. At what point do our teachers take responsibility and our social services step in? How is arresting every dealer in our city fixing this problem when it really is a cycle that roots from brokenness. I understand that the dealers need to be arrested but what are we doing to break the cycle so that the dealer's son doesn't just step up and take over? I would like to see this matter invested in by our authorities.

I would like to see the broken youth having someone to lean on. I want to know whose responsibility this is if it's not ours? I want to see this change and I will fight for as long as I have to. I want to know what to do? What can I do as a 19 year old to create change in this area? What can I do to support this matter and where do we start? I feel as though everyone in our community has a lot to answer for and It starts now. Our community seems to be the first to sit back and judge the youth in our city but what if it was your child? And it could be. Not all of these children come from horrible backgrounds, some, from 'picture- perfect' families. It could be you. It could be me.

Lismore has a Mayor who claims to be full of compassion, empathy and understanding but how does this crisis demonstrate that?

I appreciate you taking to time to read about my concerns.

Lily Hotko