The Impact of Young Voices on Generational Change
by Jack Walton
Our society faces a sea of social issues constantly bombarding our everyday lives. These are complex issues that don’t have easy solutions. If we want our society to flourish for generations to come, space needs to be made to support young voices… A major part of that requires us to listen directly to their experiences.
A great example of this is Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP)’s production of Past The Shallows, originally an award winning book by Favel Parrett included in the NSW & Victorian curriculum and adapted for the stage by playwright Julian Larnach.
The deeply moving play performed by three greatly talented young actors (Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson & Griffin McLaughlin) is an ode to brotherhood and a beautiful exploration of mortality, family secrets and the capacity for both brutality and tenderness within masculinity. The underlying theme throughout the piece is the devastating effects of Domestic Violence on young people and broader society as a whole.
Australia has an awful history of Domestic Violence and its impact on our youth is profound. According to the NSW Government, ‘1 in 4 children are exposed to domestic and family violence’, impacting their physical and mental health and survival.
In 2016-17 there were 154,302 estimated cases of violence against children and young people in NSW as stated in The Economic Cost of Violence Against Children and Young People report with a cost of $11.2 billion on the NSW economy.
On a National level, the newly elected Federal Labor government has released their National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032. This is a bold step that many experts say “…does make a significant difference in addressing the issue,” though some say, “…while this is welcome, there are significant flaws in how our systems continue to operate.”
To further address these issues in Past The Shallows, ATYP held an In Conversation with Social/Youth Services industry leaders to discuss the impact of Domestic Violence on young people.
Adam Drake, Founder of Balanced Choice, a program working directly with young people in detention centres and rehab clinics in remote communities across Australia said, “Detention centres are full of kids who have received Domestic Violence. They left the education system years ago and I wonder if we can capture their voice.”
In the Federal Government’s own report on the National Plan they mention how ‘Currently, data and data-sharing mechanisms are inadequate to provide quality measurements in relation to outcomes for victim-survivors and holding people who choose to use violence to account.’ They then go on to report, ‘Data disaggregation is limited and we lack the evidence to understand the experiences of certain communities.’
It seems that whilst the Government is looking to address these issues, their ability so far to understand the experiences of people directly affected is restricted.
Kate Munro, CEO of Youth Action NSW said that young people “…want to contribute their experience, certainly in a domestic family violence space. I’m always humbled by the amount of young people who put their hand up to come to consultations. They want to contribute their voices to discussions to be able to make a change.”
Kate then went on to say how important it is to be “…investing in the capacity of our young people, to have their voices heard and included in these discussions.”
Andrew Johnson, former UN Representative for Save the Children and Inaugural NSW Advocate for Children & Young People added to this, mentioning that in his experience getting feedback from over 30,000 young people, “The number one safety factor for children and young people is if they feel safe to express their opinion.”
To address these challenges, the recent budget has set aside $10.5 million in funding over the next four years to establish an Office for Youth and develop a new Youth Engagement Strategy to ‘…enable young Australians to influence the policies and programs that affect them.’
Moo Baulch OAM, Chair of Our Watch and long time advocate for preventing violence in women, children and the LGBTQ+ community made the point that to make sure issues like this stop happening, preventative measures need to be put in place. “This means breaking down myths & stereotypes, teaching young people about respectful relationships at an early age,” like the Respectful Relationships Education Program which the Government has committed $6 million to. Although Moo makes the point that the way we teach these things in school are “…still very fragmented and dependent on the national curriculum and how it is interpreted by teachers” who often have limited training around how these programs should be delivered.
By the end of ATYP’s In Conversation event, there was a common thread of hope that was shared by everyone on the panel in the fact that this conversation is happening and young people are engaged. Over 2,000 secondary school students from across Sydney and NSW attended the Past the Shallow‘s season, far outpacing the company’s expectations.
It’s no secret that investment needs to be made in our current institutions that support social issues. That’s always important; but if we want to make generational impacts with our resources, we should be channeling what we have into the limitless potential of our youth. They are the ones who will continue to drive change. We all need to make sure that change is positive enough to inspire future generations beyond them to keep carrying the torch.
Jack Walton is Youth Chair of ATYP, Co-Founder of Panimo, and Actor best known for Netflix’s Clickbait. For the last seven years Jack has also worked at the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance. In February 2023 he’ll be seen in ATYP and Auckland Theatre Company’s co-production of The Resistance.