The national attention in Alice Springs in the last few weeks has renewed calls for a blanket youth curfew.
That young people out late at night is an issue is plain. Just over a month ago my son was born and at 3 am whilst driving home I came across a group of about 15 young people (with some of them very young). This was a school weeknight. I see it regularly. Stories of youth out late at night and up to no good are common for this time of the year but are heightened because of the media attention. Many of the observations (not all) made in national print media about our youth are true.
Calls for a youth curfew in response to the issue have been made for some time. I remember attending the 10th Alice Springs Town Council meeting where the issue was debated to a packed house. It seemed to me to be the conservatively-aligned Aldermen vs the politically active youth NGO crowd. In our current Council at least one Alderman has been vocal in his support of a curfew but no motion has been put. The current sitting Country Liberal MLAs of Alice Springs have put a blanket youth curfew forward as their policy. The recently formed ‘Action for Alice’ group has put is as one of their ‘demands’ to government. Beyond saying ‘there will be a youth curfew so that young people will no longer be on the streets at night’, there are no further details provided. No costings and no details for how it would work. The impression is all youth in the streets and in public at night under a youth curfew would not be there.
Although I do not deny the scale of the issue I am not in favour of a blanket youth curfew.
At its core, the proposal is aimed at eliminating the presence of youth in the streets late at night. Many of these youth are there because it is safer then their homes. Their homes (if they have one) are in nearly all cases caught in the trap of substance abuse (often alcohol), and all its permeating and negative effects. Many of the young people have been abondened. What purpose would a blanket curfew serve other than to condemn these young people to the privacy of their dysfunctional homes? Proponents of a youth curfew would argue that these young people should not be out in the streets at night and that a curfew would put them in the contact of authorities, but isn’t this the role of an effective child welfare system? Many commentators against a blanket youth curfew fail to advocate this specific point, and choose to put forward other points, partly because they are part of the same political system. If the proponents of a blanket youth curfew get into government they will simply avoid the exact point (the work required for real change) and for the same reasons.
The presence of a young person left to roam the streets unsupervised is supposed to be a condition to prompt child welfare action. If our policies were effective this scenario would lead to a personal and formal intervention. The young person would receive the direct attention and follow-through of child welfare. A blanket youth curfew is not a substitute for an inadequate child welfare system. In fact, it would simply mask and skew the debate and provide a distraction to what should be the central issue. It would lead to a political blame game and proponents of the curfew would resort to wedge based politics designed to isolate those against the curfew as being soft, weak, and not having the ‘best interests of the child’ principle at heart. This political tactic is used time and time again. It is motivated in-part by the game of politics and a self-belief that a youth curfew is the answer.
On a related issue, and after review after review of policies that affect young people, and a Commonwealth intervention where nearly $2b was spent in the name of protecting ‘young people’, a friend kindly referred me to this blog post which poses an interesting point to consider.