General News

9 May, 2023

Calls to re-establish action group to combat youth crime

PROMINENT community figure and crime advocate Barry Simpson has called on local police, council and schools to reform the Truancy Action Group to combat the current youth crime epidemic that is spreading throughout Mareeba and get kids back into classrooms and on the right track.

By Rhys Thomas

Calls to re-establish action group to combat youth crime - feature photo

Mr Simpson brought up the group at the recent Mareeba Chamber of Commerce business luncheon which focused on community safety.

He drew attention to the success the now dissolved group had in the 90s and has asked for its potential reformation.

The Truancy Action Group included representatives from local police, schools and businesses and was hailed as a success as it got kids back into the schooling system and away from crime.

“As far as the problem (youth crime) goes, this really is nothing new, particularly the education aspect,” Mr Simpson said.

“In the 90s, we had a problem with kids not turning up to school and the principals, quite rightly, put breach notices out and if these breaches were not enacted, the police became involved.

“In many of the schools, the handover to the police was not all that prevalent.”

Mr Simpson implored those in power present at the luncheon, including Tablelands Patrol Group Inspector Jason Smith, to pursue the matter and potentially re-establish the Truancy Action Group.

Earlier in the luncheon, Insp Smith said that when police could get young offenders back into school, repeat offending plummeted.

“The state average for school attendance is 81 per cent and it has been dropping every year since 2018,” he said.

“But that is also absentees across our primary schools as well so the number of kids not turning up to school in Mareeba each day will be greater than that.

“I don’t think they are actually committing daytime offences, but they are probably sleeping off what they did that night.”

Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin, an ex-educator herself, has extensive experience with combating truancy and understands that it’s a serious issue.

Mayor Toppin said days absent from school would have a detrimental impact on a student’s educational outcomes and their life.

“Literacy and numeracy form the basis of a child’s education and any disruption to building these foundational skills will lead to challenges that become more and more difficult to overcome,” she said.

Mayor Toppin said while the Truancy Action Group was a very successful program in years gone past, it would need to be adapted to fit in with today’s youth and their complex issues.

“This (Truancy Action Group) was a highly successful initiative with dedicated leadership from police and a strong commitment from volunteers, schools, businesses, support services, Indigenous elders and families,” she said.

“The Truancy Action Group implemented initiatives in the community, including a graffiti removal program, football games, barbecues, and grooming sessions with a local hairdressing business.

“The award-winning program had a direct impact on the level of truancy and the occurrence of graffiti however, the landscape has changed since this time.

“While we can learn from the successes of the Truancy Action Group, I would suggest that the context today is very different and any attempt to reinstate the group would require very careful consideration of the community needs today.”

She said the issues facing youth today would be markedly different compared to the issues in the 90s as the small group of young people who were committing crime today were generally living in dysfunctional homes where a lack of parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and family violence and overcrowding were prevalent.

“The issues that are facing today’s young people are more complex than ever before,” Mayor Toppin said.

Council would continue to lobby for diversionary programs for young people in the shire that would “address the concerns of the community and meet the needs of young people”.

Overall school attendance in 2021

  • Far North Queensland – 85%

  • Mareeba State High School – 79%

  • Mareeba State School – 84%

  • Atherton State High School – 84%

  • Malanda State High School – 89%

  • Malanda State School – 92%


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