The Regional Child, Youth and Families Conference will return to Armidale on Wednesday the 22nd and Thursday the 23rd of March, this year shifting focus to older children.
Now running for over a decade, and attracting a broad range of speakers, the conference is mainly of interest to educators, frontline workers and their managers. The theme for this year’s conference is “working with young people: supporting their families and communities through change”. Some of the topics in the 2023 conference will include: supporting children and young people impacted by suicide, engaging young people through music, building resilience through disaster recovery, support for homeless children and sexual health literacy.
Event organisers, New England Family Support Service (NEFSS), are an Armidale-based, not-for-profit organisation that aims to assist local families with dependent children. They provide a wide range of resources and programs for families and those who work with children to access and aim to support children and carers alike.
Of particular relevance to the region is the discussion surrounding evidence-based prevention of alcohol and drug abuse in adolescents. NEFSS casework team leader and conference coordinator, Kye Single, identifies substance abuse and interlinked youth crime rates as a key area of concern for the New England Region.
“A lack of opportunity, accessible study and work options and stable housing solutions” are all determining factors, according to Mr Single.
“These systemic issues lead to a general feeling in many young children and adolescents that they have a lack of agency and an inability to break their current cycle.”
The event used to focus primarily on early childhood years and early intervention. A shift in funding since 2020 now means that the scope has been broadened to include older children and youths. Mr Single says that the choice to focus this year’s conference on youths more broadly, rather than young children was a direct response to demand from attendees.
“In 2020, we surveyed attendees and the overwhelming majority said that wanted more information on working with older children to assist them with filling gaps in youth projects and programs in the region”.
When asked if there was one thing he’d invest in for the region if money was no option, Mr Single said it would be a community centre with a youth drop-in program for Armidale.
“After the last one closed in 2006/07, this is something we’ve been requesting for the region for over 10 years now but with no results”.
Mr Single also says that funding for more comprehensive staffing is also paramount to the region.
“Most of the available youth programs are only staffed at a very limited capacity… [the programs] operate on a part-time basis only or rely on volunteers.”
Some programs, such as Reconnect, which works in the arena of homelessness prevention only have one paid representative covering almost the entirety of the New England Region.
“We have the same, if not more issues as metro areas, but so much less funding,” says Mr Single.
Mr Single states in a region that is struggling with funding for appropriate youth resources, events such as the upcoming conference are of critical importance.
“The conference provides not only valuable information but also vital networking for youth workers in the region. Building support networks and connections in the community improves outcomes.”
To further this concept of networking and community building, as a first this year invitations are also being extended to secondary schools in the area. The hope is that by including local school leaders, awareness will be raised at a generational level, offering more options and outlets for youths to be able to speak to peers about the issues they face.
The Australian Community Workers Association and the Australian Counselling Association also endorse the conference for professional development hours.
The conference will be held at the Armidale Bowling Club. Conference tickets are on sale now, with single-day admission, two-day admission, group entry and online delivery options all available.
For more information, about the conference, or any of NEFSS’s programs, please visit the New England Family Support Service website.
Top image: from the 2021 Regional Child, Youth and Families Conference