Berry Street’s Y-Change initiative is a social and systemic change platform for young people with lived experiences of socioeconomic disadvantage. As Lived Experience Consultants, they challenge the thinking and practices of wider social systems through advocacy and leadership.
For Berry Street’s 2019-20 Annual Report, the team contributed the piece below that explores what change means to them, and what needs to urgently change across the sector to help create a better future for children and young people.
“All that you touch You Change.
All that you Change Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.”
— Octavia E. Butler
To us, change means advocating for a better future for children and young people — one that is designed in partnership with them. We want to challenge the ways things have always been done and get people to sit with being uncomfortable, as this is so often where change begins.
When you have been through hardship and trauma at a young age it forces you to grow up quicker than you’re ready for. Through our lived experiences, we can see just how much change is needed and how harmful systems and services can be to children and young people.
Change can be a constant struggle. Pushing for the things that urgently need to change can sometimes feel like you’re saying the same things over and over, but no-one’s listening or doing anything. We know systems change is not instant. It is slow, and we have hope that through advocacy, campaigning, and reimagining systems, meaningful change will eventually happen.
We want to change the way lived experience is seen and valued and create a shift in valuing ‘non-typical’ knowledge and experiences. This involves challenging people’s assumptions and the ways in which they see young people who experience socioeconomic disadvantage.
Real change isn’t always inspirational, and this assumption often blocks us from advancement into real reform.
Finally, change requires us to shift our thinking, which is an uncomfortable but important process. It requires us to leave the failing yet familiar systems we’ve built and seek out new, better places — until we need to move again.
What needs to urgently change
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
— Henry Ford
There is not enough representation of young people with lived experience and young people in positions of real power.
The current Victorian State Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Youth is a middle-aged Caucasian woman. At a federal level, the current Minister for Youth is a 62-year-old Caucasian male who is also the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians. They haven’t been young people for a long time, but are expected to talk about issues that are affecting young people today and advocate on behalf of them.
We don’t say this to point fingers at individuals, but to point out how structures of power often maintain that those tasked as official spokespeople often have no direct, personal experiences of or investment in the people they are speaking on behalf of.
We also need to urgently address the inadequate support of children and young people in out-of-home care and the need for lived experience representation to be more broadly and deeply integrated throughout the sector. Although many children and young people in care have been profoundly let down by our service system, it’s crucial we recognise that these children and young people continue to thrive despite the system failing them. It is equally important for us to celebrate their strengths, capabilities and survival.
The failings of out-of-home care cannot be looked at in isolation to other issues that intersect with it, such as family violence, homelessness and mental ill-health.
Everything is interconnected and we must begin to focus our attention more closely on the often overlooked impacts of intergenerational trauma on children and young people.
These themes — as well as other specific recommendations for improving Victoria’s mental health service system for the young people who use it — are expanded on in ‘Curing the Sickness of the System’, our July 2019 submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
Finally, we also need to urgently look at the current debate around the age of criminal responsibility in Australia. By putting children and young people in punitive systems such as youth detention, we are retraumatising the very children who have already been traumatised. We need to shift our focus towards community support and prevention rather than punishment.
Y-Change continues, as ever, to work for these and other crucial changes across our sector.
Illustrations by artist: Nina Sepahpour, https://ninasepahpour.com/
Written by Morgan Cataldo (Senior Manager Youth Engagement), Shakira Branch (Y-Change Project Administrator) and Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants: Artemis Munoz, Beanz, Dylan Langley, Emilie Oraylia, Geordie Armstrong, Janelle Graham, Kaitlyne Bowden, K.C., Kirra-Alyssa Horley, Madelaine Smales, Mikayla Ramm, Paige Glover and Tash Anderson.