A lack of safe spaces for young people
There were spaces in the community for toddlers and young children, like parks and playgrounds. There were clubs and activities for adults, but young people in Taree noted there were no community spaces for them to be themselves and feel safe before, during or after a disaster. They were relegated to the shopping centre (where they would often be moved on because of loitering) or the river, which wasn’t a safe space.
“They were being viewed as troublemakers,” explains Kupa. “But they were just looking for places to hang out with their friends. There aren’t a lot of options for young people that are free, safe and where they can be themselves.”
They felt dislocated from the community at large and like their needs weren't being catered for.
Young people put forward suggestions to Council for child-friendly spaces that included a skate park, and also to be more involved in volunteering during disasters.
How young people can help during disasters
Although Taree has been beset by disasters including bushfires and floods, Kupa noted there weren’t ways young people could support disaster preparedness and recovery, “even when it came to helping out or volunteering. Not just in terms of policy, but also practically, young people wanted to help.”
Similarly, although many community recovery activities catered for children well, it wasn’t as positive an experience for adolescents. “Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, adults were also being catered for, but then adolescents just formed that little awkward middle ground where their needs were largely neglected.”
A new arena for young people to raise their voice
Local council, emergency services and service providers were keen to hear from the young people, reports Kupa. “They really appreciated that amount of work and thought the young people placed into the recommendations. Some of the recommendations, like clearer communication channels, especially during the emergencies, was work taken on board.”
It’s led to a stronger notion that young people should be more involved in their communities long-term to help plan and implement what works for them. “They want to develop a long-term partnership between young people and decision makers where they can continually feed in and have their ideas heard because they too are passionate about their community,” says Kupa.
“It’s reminded me that young people are not the future. They’re not the leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today. I saw young people who are ready and willing to make a really meaningful contribution to their communities and have a say in the world that affects them. It's really exciting to see, and I hope that in future young people are taken more seriously so that there can be more consultation and collaboration. Because once that occurs, I think society will be in a better place.”