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Disengaged Youth and Crime: Understanding the Challenges

Youth who are disengaged from school and community activities are at a higher risk of involvement in criminal behaviour. Disengaged youth are defined as young people who are not in school and not working and may also be disconnected from their families and communities.  Finding ways to support young people to refocus their energy into improving their lives rather than destroying them takes far more than police arresting them.

Policing youth crime does not work for a variety of reasons. One major issue is that it often treats young people as adult criminals rather than recognizing the unique challenges and developmental needs that they face. This approach can lead to over-criminalization and harsher punishments for youthful offenders, exacerbating the problem rather than solving it. Additionally, policing youth crime can perpetuate cycles of poverty and marginalization, as young people who are incarcerated or have criminal records may have difficulty finding employment and housing in the future. Furthermore, research has shown that policing and punishment alone are ineffective in reducing crime and re-offending among youth and that a more holistic, community-based approach is needed to address the root causes of youth crime and disengagement.

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Why do youth disengage?

Research has shown that several factors contribute to youth disengagement, including:

  • poverty
  • lack of education and employment opportunities 
  • exposure to violence and trauma

These experiences can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, which can, in turn, increase the likelihood of involvement in criminal behaviour.

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Better Understanding

It is essential to understand that disengaged youth are not necessarily “bad” or “delinquent” kids but rather young people who face significant challenges and may need support to overcome them.

One way to better understand the challenges faced by disengaged youth is to talk to them directly and hear their stories. This can be done through community outreach programs, mentoring programs, or by working with organizations that provide services to disengaged youth.  


But how do we get youth to participate?

One way to get youth to want to engage with organizations that offer youth support is to make the services and programs provided relevant and appealing to their interests and needs. This can be done by involving young people in the planning and implementation of programs and actively seeking their feedback and input. Additionally, creating a safe and welcoming environment that prioritizes youth empowerment and self-expression can make youth feel more comfortable and willing to engage. Building trust and relationships with young people is essential to being consistent, dependable, and non-judgmental. Furthermore, by providing opportunities for leadership development, mentorship, and skill-building, youth will feel a sense of purpose and belonging, making them more likely to engage with the organization. Lastly, providing youth with clear and consistent information about the services and programs offered and their benefits can help increase their interest and engagement.


A youth outreach program that provides support and services to young people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Australia.

The Smith Family

Offer a range of programs and services to support disadvantaged children and young people, including mentoring, tutoring, and financial assistance.

Youth Off  The Streets

A range of services to disadvantaged and disengaged youth, including accommodation, education, counselling, and mentoring.

Mission Australia

Programs and services to support young people, including those who are disengaged from education and training, through mentoring, counselling and other support services.


A youth outreach program that provides support and services to young people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Australia.

Access Community Services 

A not-for-profit community organization that provides a range of support and services to young people and their families, including mentoring and counselling.

The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition

A national peak organization that aims to make a positive difference to the lives of young people, including through policy and advocacy.

Street University

The Street University concept is founded by an idea that Ted Noffs envisioned in the 60s in Sydney – This is “no young person is a write off”.

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What drives Delinquency?

Another way to gain a deeper understanding of the issues faced by disengaged youth is to engage in research and learn from experts in the field. This could include reading studies and reports on the subject, attending conferences and workshops, or connecting with professionals who work with disengaged youth daily.  Some examples are:

Supporting Youth Justice

Youth Justice Services support young people to gain the life skills they need to disrupt anti-social or offending behaviour, to access meaningful employment and help them to recognise that they are valued members of the community.

Preventing Youth Disengagement and Promoting Engagement
Prepared by Dr Jane Burns, Philippa Collin, Michelle Blanchard, Natasha De-Freitas &Sian Lloyd of the Inspire Foundation and ORYGEN Youth Health Research Centre for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, August 2008.
Understanding Delinquency in Teenage Years

Including components to prevention programs that help youth weigh-up both the costs and benefits of delinquent behaviour may be especially important prior to and at the start of high-school.

The Impact of Community-Based Interventions on Delinquency

Typically, juvenile delinquency follows a trajectory similar to that of normal adolescent development. In other words, children and youth tend to follow a path toward delinquent and criminal behavior rather than engaging randomly.1 Research has shown that there are two types of delinquents,

  • those in whom the onset of severe antisocial behavior begins in early childhood, and
  • those in whom this onset coincides with entry into adolescence.2
How Do Positive Role Models Affect Our Youth and Communities?

Research findings indicate that adolescents who can identify a positive role model in their lives have higher grades and self-esteem than those who can’t, particularly when the youth knows their role model on a personal level.


A national youth mental health foundation that provides support and resources for young people and their families.

Youth Action

A youth-led organization that empowers young people to create positive change in their communities, and provides resources and support for youth engagement and leadership.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) 

An independent, non-profit research organization that conducts research on education and youth engagement.

Tursa Employment and Training

Offers the Transition to Work program that provides a “Your Choice Your Voice” approach to young people giving them a safe environment to engage with youth adviser’s and build a plan for their future.

Whose responsibility is it actually?

Guy holding his hands up like saying "I don't know"

It essential to recognize that addressing the issues disengaged youth face is not just the responsibility of the youth themselves but also the responsibility of families, communities, and society as a whole. This includes providing access to education and employment opportunities, addressing poverty, and working to create safer and more supportive communities.

By better understanding the challenges disengaged youth face, we can work together to create solutions and opportunities for these young people to succeed and reduce their involvement in criminal behaviour.


 Addressing the issues disengaged youth face is not just the responsibility of the youth but also the responsibility of families, communities, and society. By providing access to education and employment opportunities, addressing poverty, and working to create safer and more supportive communities, we can develop solutions and opportunities for these young people to succeed and reduce their involvement in criminal behaviour.  Assisting them to engage in their own plan for the future and then providing the space, programs and support needed to develop trust and confidence is one step to change.

Newsletter – Spring 2020

This year marks 25 years of Tursa Employment & Training delivering employment services.

In what was a humble beginning without paid staff until we received our up-front payment from the Department.

The first contract under the then New Work Opportunities Programme required TURSA to find employers in the Lismore area to take on 60 very long term unemployed persons for six months duration – 4 days a week working in a business and one day a week in training.

We were also provided with funding to pay the participants and to recruit staff to carry out on-site visits to Participants and employers to ensure as much as possible that the working relationship was productive. This was no small task, and all of the initial band of staff, including the first Secretary/Manager, Ron Rathborne, were registered unemployed workers.

As a part of recognising 25 years of TURSA’s we reflect on some early steps taken in creating an ethos and culture that would allow an organisation to grow within clear parameters. TURSA’s Core Objectives were constructed over 25 years ago and are now enshrined as the underpinning “Core Policy” of the organisation:

  1. Honesty and Integrity
  2. Excellent Customer
  3. Service
  4. High Performance
  5. Openness and Teamwork
  6. Respect for Diversity
  7. Forward Thinking

Reviewing these Core Objectives it is clear that they are as relevant today as when they were written and will continue to be a focus into the future.

The following is a brief acknowledgement of 25 years of TURSA:

In 1994 Tursa Employment & Training was founded as a not-for-profit for the express purpose of addressing unemployment and alleviating disadvantage suffered by people of the region.

1995 the first contract was granted to TURSA under the New Work Opportunities Programme, commencing in Lismore, then a month later in Ballina and within months extended throughout the Northern Rivers. Mobile deployed field staff operated across the Northern Rivers footprint supported by the Head Office at Lismore. Rapid expansion to offices at Ballina followed by Grafton and Tweed Heads ensured we were able to provide increased services across the entire region. August 1995 was also the year that Debbie Fry joined the organisation who remains as the Company Secretary and Board Delegate supporting an independent Board of Directors and an experienced Chief Officers Group.

1996 and into 1997 New Apprenticeship Centres, Youth Programmes and Work for the Dole were included into the services delivered by TURSA with new sites opened at Casino, Byron Bay and Murwillumbah. The same years saw the approval of TURSA as a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and the subsequent awarding of key NSW training contracts.

In 1998 and for the next two years TURSA was contracted to deliver the Flex 1 programme, sourcing job vacancies and engaging with other employment service providers to recruit labour across all industry sectors in the Northern Rivers – more than 7,000 places over the contract period – a challenging but successful programme.

Further contracts were awarded to the RTO including the training and supporting of Northern Rivers Business to migrate and integrate MYOB and QuickBooks into their operations. Adult jobseekers obtained training to achieve their International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) as one of the first steps by the government to support the new digital age and use of technology emerging in the workplace.

In 2000 the full range of Employment Services under Job Network was delivered across the TURSA footprint which now included Kyogle, Maclean, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads.

2003 saw continued expansion into the Gold Coast with new offices initially at Southport and shortly afterwards Nerang, Coolangatta, and Kingscliff and by 2007 the additional sites of Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Woolgoolga and Yamba completed the footprint.

In 2009 Job Network was replaced by Job Services Australia and ran through to 2015 with additional new locations opened at Oxenford, Helensvale, Palm Beach, Robina, Mermaid Beach and Nambucca Heads.

From 2015, jobactive became the new branding for Employment Services from the Australian Government. Contracts awarded to TURSA under the new jobactive programme saw a significant increase in business through the Brisbane corridor to the Sunshine Coast and an expansion in the Mid North Coast of NSW, resulting in the opening of an additional 30 sites to support the increase in business.

In 2018 TURSA sourced an additional site at North Lakes to meet the needs of this emerging growth corridor. Later that year TURSA successfully secured a competitive license under the revised Disability Employment Services-Employment Support Services (DES-ESS) across 16 contracted Employment Service Areas which saw further expansion with an additional location at Toowoomba and Gatton.

In 2019 TURSA was invited to participate in the New Employment Service Trial (NEST) in the Mid North Coast Employment Region covering Coffs Harbour LGA through to Port Macquarie and Taree/ Forster.

TURSA now operates as a leading jobactive, NEST, DES-ESS and RTO provider encompassing the significant lifestyle region from the Sunshine Coast, west to Toowoomba in Queensland, incorporating Brisbane metropolitan and Gold Coast areas and south in NSW from the Coolangatta/Tweed border bringing the current number of sites to 58.

Work for the Dole:

Over the past 25 years TURSA has been involved in many programmes and projects. One of the most valuable to Participants and the community has been Work for the Dole.

Work for the Dole Group Activities were very popular with Participants. Transport to sites was provided along with qualified tradespeople to supervise the team. Partnerships were forged with multiple stakeholders throughout our footprint including community organisations, business and local government.

Training Credits provided a real incentive and TURSA offered accredited training during participation so as Participants completed with either an entry level qualification or units towards a recognised qualification. Participants volunteered to come onto many of these activities to obtain training credits, valuable skills and training.

The community was left with lasting assets and Participants could, and can still, see what they built for their local community. Participants had current work-like experience that saw many of them placed into employment after completing the projects.

The projects undertaken over the years are many and varied and certainly too numerous to mention, however, just two examples of quality projects highlight the regional success of this programme.

Jiggi Pre-School

This project, to build a community pre-school from the ground up, was designed and supervised by a trade qualified carpenter. Completed in 2006, it still provides a much needed service to the local community today whilst Participants received valuable “hands on” practical real world training.

Now known as Tower Preschool situated in Jiggi Valley in NSW, it provides high quality early education for children aged 2 – 5 years old. This special little preschool has been committed to providing personalised, early education and support to children and their families for the past 30 years and is a much loved and integral part of the Jiggi community.

Jiggi 1 Shorter
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Japanese Friendship Gardens

This project was created in the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens, and has become a very highly regarded tourist attraction right in the centre of town.

The Team contributed to the creation of the Pavilion and Contemplation Room overlooking the lake, providing a tranquil viewing platform for the community to enjoy the Japanese-inspired gardens.

The project was a successfully run in collaboration with Coffs Harbour City Council and TAFE NSW.

The Japanese pavilion is built out over the eastern end of the lake. Traditional building techniques have been used, wooden with no nails, a wooden platform, and a beautiful view over the lake towards the mountains.

The contemplation room, completed in 2014 is an open structure, with places to rest and reflect in a quiet and peaceful location.

Japanese Gardens 1
Japanese Gardens 2
Employers and Chambers of Commerce:

Looking back on the past 25 years the participation of TURSA with local Chambers of Commerce by attending business breakfasts and after hours events has led to building some close and ongoing relationships with employers such as Sunvista Nursery, Brookfarm, Clarence River Jockey Club, Complete Staff Solutions, Plantasy Nursery, The Byron Bay Cookie Company, Condong Sugar Mill, Maxwell’s Fisheries, Nerang Park Poultry, Earle Haven and Burleigh Heads SLSC, all of which are long term employers that been placing TURSA Participants for up to 20 years and more.

TURSA is a member of over 60 local Chambers of Commerce from Forster to Noosa; including the NSW Business Chamber and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry QLD, continuing to be an active participant in the local business communities in which we operate.

Some background on just one employer:

Marquis Macadamias (originally known as MPC) have employed TURSA Participants for around 20 years now. When MPC was established it was comprised of 4 local Northern Rivers macadamia growers and has grown to be the largest macadamia processor in the world and one of the largest employers across the Northern Rivers Region.

TURSA assists Marquis Macadamias each year to employ staff for the harvest/processing season which runs from April through to the end of November. Marquis’ statement: “As Australia’s largest grower, processor and seller, we’re proud to support our people and local business alike” embodies a TURSA ethos.

A Thank You for 25 Years………

TURSA would wish to acknowledge the contributions from staff and stakeholders over the last 25 years for creating a strong organisation ready to continue to serve the communities and geographical areas in which we deliver services.

A success story for our Founder, Mr Ron Rathborne, who as a long term matured aged unemployed jobseeker with an extensive previous employment background, was able to see and create a vision to provide a different service to unemployed.

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