Mission Australia’s Concepts of Community report released today highlights further findings from Mission Australia’s Youth Survey 2016, which show that young people from different socio-economic backgrounds across Australia have different experiences and challenges.

Each year thousands of young Australians participate in Mission Australia’s Youth Survey. The poll collects a broad range of information, including: what young people value; issues of personal concern; information on where young people go for help with personal concerns; perceptions of their most important national issues; feelings about the future; and perceptions of family relationships.

Mission Australia’s Concepts of Community report draws on responses from the 21,049 young people who completed the Youth Survey 2016 who were identified as living in high, moderate or low socio-economic status (SES) areas using postcode data. It compares the views and experiences of young people from those three SES areas in relation to:

  • concerns about alcohol and drug use in their communities;
  • feelings of trust and safety within their community;
  • most common sources of social support in a crisis;
  • participation in community life and social activities; and
  • experiences as a target or witness of discrimination.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The top three most important issues in Australia in 2016 as identified by young people across all SES groups were alcohol and drugs (24.5%), equity and discrimination (23.2%) and mental health (17.6%).
  • Coping with stress, school or study satisfaction and body image were the top three personal concerns across all SES groups. Young people from low SES areas were more likely than their peers from moderate or high SES areas to identify personal safety, bullying/emotional abuse, suicide and family conflict as issues of personal concern.
  • Nearly all young people surveyed (99.3%) were seriously concerned about the use of at least one type of drug in their community. On average, young people living in low SES areas were seriously concerned about a larger number of drugs (5) than their peers in moderate (4) and high SES areas (3).
  • Young people living in low SES areas reported higher levels of concern about community safety and exhibited lower levels of trust compared to other young people living in moderate or high SES areas.
  • Lack of community trust is particularly stark in low SES areas, where only one quarter (26.0%) of young people agreed or strongly agreed that they can trust most people in their community compared to young people in high SES areas (50.6%).
  • The SES group of respondents did not affect their likelihood of having experienced or witnessed discrimination; however young people from low SES areas were slightly more likely than their peers to experience discrimination or unfair treatment on the basis of mental health or physical health issues.
  • Over a 12 month period, young people from low SES areas were the least likely to have participated in a range of activities, including sport (as a participant), sport (as a spectator), volunteering and arts/culture/musical activities compared to young people in moderate and high SES areas.

Catherine Yeomans, Mission Australia’s CEO, says that the findings can inform the development of policies, services and programs that can have lasting positive impacts for young people, particularly those from disadvantaged and low SES areas.

“Where young people live has an impact not only on their personal identity and social connections, but also on their access to opportunities,” said Ms Yeomans.

Young people from disadvantaged areas can be left behind from their earliest years in life, as a result of having fewer opportunities and resources. This can lead to poorer life outcomes in terms of education, employment, housing and health.

“We need to break the cycles of intergenerational disadvantage found in low SES areas in every state and territory of Australia, so we can start to level out the playing field for young people and ensure they have the chance to achieve their full potential, regardless of where they live.”

One response to social disadvantage that has had proven effects is the implementation of ‘placed-based approaches’ that are collaborations between community organisations, governments and community members. Place-based approaches allow innovative local solutions to emerge, through joint planning by stakeholders and multi-agency collaboration.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing social disadvantage. Policies and programs must be responsive to local needs if we are going to achieve lasting social change,” said Ms Yeomans.

“What’s needed is a whole of community response that not only focuses on young people, but builds up strengths within the broader community. Mission Australia’s Strengthening Communities approach responds to the needs of communities that are experiencing deep, persistent and concentrated disadvantage. This is achieved through collaboration, place-making projects, tailored services and evaluation, to help us identify the policies and programs that actually get results.”

“The Concepts of Community report shows that young people in low SES areas feel less safe in their own suburbs and less trusting of their neighbours. These young people need access to public places where they feel safe to socialise, take part in activities and make connections in their communities.”

“One way to create connections in communities is through shared activities. Our report shows that young people in high and moderate SES areas are more likely to participate in sport, volunteering and arts and cultural activities. The barriers that prevent young people from low SES areas participating in activities at the same levels, such as the financial costs, need to be addressed.”

“Young people from all backgrounds are concerned about alcohol and drug use in their communities, but those living in low SES areas were considerably more concerned about the use of all drugs, particularly methamphetamines. We urgently need to address the underlying causes of substance misuse to minimise the negative impacts on young people, and provide whole-of-community prevention and early intervention programs where they are most needed.”

“We know that young people are most likely to turn to friends and family members when they are dealing with personal issues. Support and training should be offered to these informal networks, so they have the knowledge and skills they need in times of crisis to connect the young person to appropriate face-to-face or online professional support.”

“It is essential that young people have a say in the issues that affect them. The Mission Australia Youth Survey and reports like this one provide a platform for young people’s voices. It is now up to governments, businesses and organisations to ensure they are actively involved in the design of programs that are being created to improve their lives and their well-being,” she said.

A list of policy recommendations is available within the report.

Download the Concepts of Community report

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