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30 August, 2021

It's time to change youth outcomes

The “fundamental lack of services” for local young people despite the short term successes of the Oakey Youth Project has resulted in low youth engagement and long term outcomes, according to a report released by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) last week.

USQ research program manager Sherree Halliwell said Oakey is an ideal location for all levels of government to invest in community development and to create change for local young people.

The report, evaluating the outcomes of the almost two year Oakey Youth Project initiative, identified clear gaps in mental health services, education and training opportunities and long term employment for local young people. 

It was compiled by research program manager Sherree Halliwell and Professor Andrew Hickey who used interviews with local stakeholders, residents and young people to make several recommendations to governments and organisations working to change outcomes in Oakey.

Ms Halliwell said the population displays a variety of disadvantages not seen in Toowoomba.

“Oakey is situated only 40km from Toowoomba which is one of the wealthiest regional cities
in Australia but 90 per cent of Australian suburbs are more advantaged than the Oakey district,” she said.

“This alone tells us that there is a strong case for community development and change.”

She said the objective of the report is to provide a “clear blueprint” for the design and implementation of programs and services aimed  at local youth.

Ms Halliwell said, from interviews with local young people, she found there were several barriers to engagement and long term success from lack of awareness for current programs, little training opportunities and long term accommodation.  

“School-leaver aged participants are particularly concerned by the lack of further education and training opportunities in Oakey,” she said.

“Many young people lack the personal transportation to attend TAFE and/or further education institutions."

The report showed that outcomes became more dire when it came to young people with serious mental illness with long wait lists and no local services making it almost impossible to access

“Localised professional psychologists and psychiatrists dedicated to youth should be incentivised to establish practice in Oakey,” the report said. 

Ms Halliwell said recommendations from the survey fit into three key areas: addressing gaps in services, optimising the design and implementation of youth programs and stakeholder engagement.

She said additional services need to include those aimed at homelessness, drug/alcohol abuse, mental health and domestic violence.

“The evaluation of the Oakey Youth Project has identified demand for the provision of dedicated mental health services focuses on early intervention and crisis management,” she said.

“Oakey is a resilient community, but one that faces significant economic, social and health challenges,” she said.

Ms Halliwell said the Oakey Youth Project “meaningfully responded to these challenges” but requires more support to have a lasting benefit.

“It is vital that sustainable, community-based and coordinated approaches to programming be developed,” she said.

“In conjunction with more cohesive mental health services, need for training and education opportunites with Oakey present as major priority areas for development.”

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