Youth on their side

A young person listens to a speaker at the 'What’s Up West? Our Time Is Now! Conference' for young people held by Youth Action in Western Sydney, October 2019. Photo: Youth Action/supplied.

The Sentinel’s youth editor, Corin Shearston, profiles the important work and achievements of Youth Action, the peak body for youth in NSW.

At the vital forefront of youth representation in NSW, the Youth Action organisation (formerly YAPA) has been making a difference in the lives of people aged 12 to 25 since first being amalgamated in 1990.

Currently led by CEO Kate Munro, Youth Action is the peak body for youth and youth services in NSW, representing 1.4 million young people across our state. Their organisational membership spans the councils of Sydney and other local government areas, as well as numerous community service groups. 

Youth Action strives towards a society of valued young people, whose voices are heard and respected. Last year, Youth Action partnered with Western Sydney University and Integrate Labs, to complete the largest survey of the NSW Youth Sector since 2011. Using these findings, Youth Action was able to construct the Snapshot 2020: NSW Youth Sector report, which was launched during a Zoom webinar in April 2020.

It detailed the progress, activities and priorities for youth services, while displaying the experiences, attitudes and backgrounds of youth workers. The report also provided a strong platform for advocacy on behalf of youth workers and support services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Youth workers in discussion at Youth Action’s biennial youth work conference 2019 in Sydney. The NSW Youth Work Conference is hosted by Youth Action to support the youth sector in delivering the best outcomes for young people. Photo: Youth Action/supplied.

Among the key findings was that 98 per cent of NSW youth services are utilised by young people with mental health concerns. Unfortunately, youth homelessness remains the top unmet need in the NSW youth sector. In Mission Australia’s youth homelessness survey and report from last year, it was revealed that more than one in six young people had experienced some type of homelessness since the start of 2019.

In order to afford suitable assistance for these issues, government funding for Youth Action is crucial. Fortunately, 70 per cent of youth services received more than $250 000 in 2020, a rate that can be increased to ensure Youth Action’s financial sustainability. 

An emphasis on core values of inclusiveness, fairness, and mutual respect encourage a diverse range of young people to volunteer in Youth Action’s grassroots organisation, Outburst! Comprising members of Greater Western Sydney, aged 12 to 25, the collaborative social efforts of this group directly develop the skills and knowledge of youth in the Western Sydney region, while increasing community understanding and providing the support framework for projects, activities and events. Their key focus is on social outcome and advocacy. 

A young person speaks at What’s Up West? Our Time Is Now! Conference for young people held by Youth Action in Western Sydney in October 2019. Photo: Youth Action/supplied.

At the age of 24, Lisa Lewis is a new board member with Youth Action, who is completing her post-graduate degree in Social Science at her main workplace, Western Sydney University. After first becoming involved with Young Women Lead, an empowering feminist program, Lisa became a long-term member of Outburst! Before being offered her board position, she had been collaborating with the group since February 2019, and is still involved as one of 20 proud ‘Outbursties’. Lisa told the Sentinel that attending a face-to-face youth group really helps her mental health, through communal idea sharing and fun group activities like relaxing in nature and eating pizza. Explaining the social background of the group, Lisa stated, “We’re all in different areas in life and we’re all from different parts of the city, but it’s one thing that grounds us and keeps us together.” 

Lisa also spoke of the short-term, high impact engagement work of Youth Action’s biennial community conference, What’s Up West? Since being founded in 2009, these events have brought thousands of young Western Sydney people together to discuss possible solutions for major community issues. 

Gathering around 300 people, Youth Action’s last What’s Up West? conference was held in Parramatta in 2019. The event confirmed the ever-growing youth fears for climate change, sustainability, and the environment, while sparking ideas for facing these challenges with passion. The next What’s Up West? Conference will take place later this year, through a modified, COVID-safe system.

A young person listens to a speaker at What’s Up West? Our Time Is Now! Conference for young people held by Youth Action in Western Sydney in October 2019. Photo: Youth Action/supplied.

When questioned on social issues at What’s Up West?, previously participating young people clarified that their main problems concerned racism and cultural disrespect. They also noted the fear of feeling unsafe at night due to a lack of lighting, and criticised a contrast of funding for public and private schools in Western Sydney. Refreshingly, these same young people still celebrated the diversity, vibrancy and food of the West.

A richer detail of similar opinions was previously captured through Youth Action’s 2017 report, Young People In Western Sydney: Beyond Stereotypes. Surveying the perspectives of nearly 900 young people, many impacted by unfair cultural depictions, Youth Action proved that the negative stereotypes about Western Sydney were outdated. 

Youth Actions’s celebratory mural for the Beyond Stereotypes project, unveiled on April 12, 2019, in Parramatta’s Rivoli Lane. Photo: Youth Action/supplied.

Due to Western Sydney youth caring deeply about their welcoming neighbourhoods, diverse cultures, supportive communities and unique places, the Beyond Stereotypes report showed that youth of the region identify positively with being from Western Sydney, and view themselves as assets for future endeavours. 

Summing things up through encouraging the tenacity of youth, Lisa Lewis told the Sentinel: “More young people should think about where they want to be in the future … if you start taking every single unique opportunity that is presented to you then you’ll build your own future in your own eclectic way.”

For further info on Youth Action, visit www.youthaction.org.au.