HAWKER College student Courtney is one of many young people who have been treated with doubt or belittled because of her age and with National Youth Week coming up (or what’s left of it) things don’t seem to be improving.
In fact, it’s been getting worse since cuts were made by the then-Abbott government, in 2015, which progressively cancelled funds to Federal National Youth Week activities, awards, the committee and Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies (ACYS).
The ACT government has put some funds towards the week but director of policy and development at the Youth Coalition of the ACT, Hannah Watts, says the loss of Federal funding means that the amount available for Youth Week in the ACT has decreased, which adds weight to the concerns of many young people who don’t feel valued in our society.
“We will be looking out for this in the ACT Budget, and are hoping for an increase in the funds available in the ACT over the next few years.
“The decreased funds this year have meant less events are being held, and limited promotion of youth week across the community.”
Courtney, 17, says the Federal cuts to National Youth Week give young people further reason to feel displaced in the community.
“It very clearly shows that our role in the community is not valued,” she says.
One area in particular where Courtney believes ageism is most prevalent is in the workplace.
“I think it’s very easy for employers to exploit young people,” she says.
“I can confidently say that a majority of my peers have been paid below the minimum wage.
“It’s so common that I think young people don’t see it as big a problem as it is.
“The problem is, if you do have the knowledge that you’re being exploited, there’s always a risk that your job is on the line.”
Even if the employer is in the wrong, Courtney says young people don’t want to risk having a bad reference on their record because they have stood up for themselves.
“Young people need to know their rights but bosses need to know what they can or can’t do,” she says.
Hannah says one issue, which is often raised by young people, is a lack of public spaces.
Just recently she heard from a group of teenagers who were using some play equipment one evening, when there were no children around. She says they weren’t smoking, weren’t drinking, weren’t being a nuisance yet they were still told off by members of the community.
“I think in town planning we need to have a real, genuine conversation with how young people want their community to be built,” she says.
“If we want people to stay in Canberra we want them to feel like they have a place where they belong and are valued.”
But, with uncertainty around youth platforms such as National Youth Week, Courtney says the overarching stereotype and stigma towards young people will continue to slide into all aspects of a young person’s life.
“It’s very evident that when we’re given a platform, that we can contribute so much to the community,” she says.
“The capability is there, it’s just we’re not given the chance.”
While the Youth Week events are a great opportunity for celebration and fun, Hannah says they are also an opportunity for young people to engage with youth support services in an informal way.
“Young people can meet youth workers, check out services, and meet other young people outside their usual social circles,” she says.
“If these opportunities continue to reduce, young people and youth services become less visible in our community, particularly in ways that highlight the great contributions they make to the Canberra community.”
National Youth Week runs from April 13 to 22 and features Black Mountain School’s Youth Arts and Music Festival, ACT Youth Week expo and barbecue at Dickson College, East African Community youth sports and game day and a Sunset Festival with the YWCA. More details at facebook.com/NationalYouthWeekACT/