CHILD abuse and neglect may not be as visible in Orange as other areas, but Youth Off The Streets founder Father Chris Riley believes there would be children sexually assaulted every night in the city and the only way to tackle the problem is to reach out and help young people feel safe.
Father Riley was a guest speaker at Saturday’s Rotary district conference, outlining his 40 years working with the troubled young people he described as his family, and more recently the new outreach centre his organisation established in Bourke last month.
Some of his anecdotes had the crowd in stitches, but other harrowing stories of his work with some of Australia’s most vulnerable prompted gasps from the crowd.
While the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has thrust the topic back into the headlines, Father Riley said child abuse in the home was far more insidious and hidden, and more education, counselling and infrastructure was needed, with a focus on treatment.
Something his organisation had proven could work.
“I’ve challenged the Department of Community Services to offer treatment programs rather than just put all these state wards into a house ... they end up leaving worse than they came,” he said.
“We’ve got the only Aboriginal out-of-home-care place and only the place for young kids who have sexually assaulted people and in 10 years we’ve had one relapse.”
Father Riley said statistics revealed one in four girls and one in six boys were sexually assaulted and he believed up to five million people in Australia had been or continue to be sexually assaulted.
While there was a massive difference between keeping youth off the streets in regional areas compared to metropolitan areas, he said education was the key.
“With those towns like Bourke there’s no employment opportunities for these kids, there’s just no hope for them,” he said.
“It’s why a lot of kids leave country areas, because there’s also a lack of educational opportunities.
“In those towns you might have a third of the kids turn up [to school] in one day.
“They’re probably exhausted because they’re wandering around to the early morning because they’re too scared to go home.”
Youth Off The Streets operates five schools in metropolitan areas focused on offering education that fits the students.
“Aboriginal kids learn very differently ... they hear the story, they tell the story ... outside the classroom they’re much happier,” he said.
“In terms of activities you have to keep them busy.”
Father Riley said unlike other services, his outreach centres employed young people from the area.
“That’s our magic, it’s local people, we don’t import people into the suburbs,” he said.
“They’re all staffed by locals and young people who have been involved in troubles, but now know they have to be on their best behaviour with everyone watching them.
“We’ve had good results like that.”
Father Riley said there were plans to eventually open a safe house in Bourke when funds were available, but for now the outreach centre offered food and free services for young people at a time that suited them.
“Every service in Bourke operates from nine to five, which is ridiculous ... we’d be around at midnight trying to keep kids safe,” he said.