This publication, written as a guide for local councils, courts, criminal justice agencies, government, and community organisations, explores how the Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s Crime Prevention and Community Justice team improves community life through improving public safety.
Since the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) opened its doors in 2007, crime rates have fallen 31%  in the City of Yarra. While crime rates are generally down across Melbourne, Yarra’s rates have fallen significantly further than comparable inner urban areas. In areas with comparable levels of disadvantage crime increased upwards of 10%.
No doubt gentrification plays its part, but the Australian Institute of Criminology draws a correlation between the introduction of the NJC and Yarra’s significantly better report card .
The NJC is Australia’s only community justice centre. It delivers justice services at a series of points in the continuum of community life, from primary prevention programs to court-based intervention and into the post-court sphere. Its central tenet is the decentralisation of authority in ways that build the capacity of citizens to take action in relation to community-wide safety and individual rehabilitation.
The centre’s sole magistrate hears criminal, civil and Children’s Court matters. Working in partnership with the court is the Client Services team, comprising around 17 independent welfare agencies. The agencies operate as an embedded unit, rather than as independent operators who happen to be colocated.
Is the NJC advocating that courts have the capacity to improve community life through community-oriented crime prevention? Yes, and it also advocates that all organisations central to civic life can do so.
From 2007 to 2012, community crime prevention at the NJC was managed by the Crime and Violence Prevention Unit (CVPU) within the Department of Justice. The CVPU focused on reducing offender rates in the 15-29 age bracket, reducing property crime, and building the capacity of local communities to implement local crime solutions. Its solutions were practical and targeted, and proved that the first step towards community safety is to bring together people who have the spirit for change. In 2012, the NJC took carriage of community crime prevention and established its Crime Prevention team (today called the Crime Prevention and Community Justice team).
Underpinned by the principles of the community justice model, the team addresses the underlying causes of harm and offending by drawing on the strengths of the established cornerstones of the community — local councils, local government agencies, local police, local business organisations, local welfare networks, local schools.
Two excellent illustrations of this approach are the Communities that Care project and the Collingwood All Stars Soccer Program. The former is an alliance of Yarra’s services that was forged to develop early prevention policies and frameworks to prevent young people from harm and wrongful behaviour. The latter is a football club for at-risk youth that NJC’s Registrar team runs with Victoria Police. These initiatives do not rely on any organisation having a dedicated crime prevention team to work; rather, they simply rely on cornerstone organisations working together to run practical intervention initiatives.
These are but two illustrations that prove we all have the agility and flexibility to exploit our organisational strengths, networks and expertise. Moreover, organisations often share similar processes and share many of the same goals—civic improvement, harm reduction, safer communities.
The principles discussed herein are universal: place matters, relationships matter, problems are solved, use strengths not weaknesses, work collaboratively and, as required, lead by example.
As the voices of the Crime Prevention and Community Justice team’s many collaborators explain, community crime prevention works best when professional bodies working at a local level apply their skills collaboratively.
And this, advocates the NJC, is how experts develop a better ear for, and give a helping hand towards, improving community life.
CASE STUDY: Collingwood All Stars Soccer Program
A guitar and a soccer ball: Proactive, Early Intervention
The Collingwood All Stars Soccer Program (CASP) is one of the NJC’s longest running police—community partnerships, and is loved by staff and local kids alike.
In 2006, Leading Senior Constables Anthony Brewin and Chris McGeachan identified that something needed to be done to deflect young newly-arrived teenagers from harm and criminality.
Many of the children and young adults came from war-torn countries and are deeply traumatised. Now living in Melbourne’s inner city, they were disengaged from school and faced social and cultural barriers to mainstream life. Moreover, having experienced negative, often violent encounters with police and officials in their homeland, they did not trust police. Adding to this, there was a lack of recreation and engagement programs for them on the estates.
As police Youth Resource Officers (YROs), McGeachan and Brewin focused on youth from the Collingwood, Richmond and Atherton Gardens Housing Estates. In collaboration with Jesuit Social Services and Yarra Youth Services, they invited young Sudanese refugees who were engaging in anti-social behaviour to join a basketball program.
Riding on the success of the basketball program, Brewin, armed with a guitar, and McGeachan, armed with a soccer ball, ventured to the Collingwood estate’s oval to join a group of kids having an ad hoc game.
From that initial foray, numbers swelled as children and young adults gravitated to the YROs, and an official program soon followed.
The aim of the game is to:
- break down barriers and engage positive relations with police
- enjoy regular physical activity in a supportive environment
- provide an avenue for service providers to establish relationships with young people
- give the youth positive adult male role models
- open pathways to mainstream sporting clubs
- open pathways to education and employment.
“CASP grew incredibly quickly. From five the first week, 25 the next. Soccer wasn’t played much around here but it was the game they wanted to play; that it was in their backyard, that was the biggest drawcard. And it was inclusive, not exclusive of anyone.”
Leading Senior Constable Chris McGeachan
Initially the YROs opened the program to all ages, but with growing popularity and limited resources they chose kids in Year 8 to Year 12. However, it was open to any kid in these age groups living in Yarra.
Playing soccer is the ‘hook’, but the real aim is to give participants a safe, supportive way to meet peers, police, NJC staff, and community agency workers, and learn about local support services, and education and employment pathways.
In 2008, the program linked with the Clifton Hill Junior Soccer Club. Ten CASP players joined this club’s under-12 team, thereby enjoying the opportunity to play at a local club level. Through this, the Collingwood All Stars team was established and young people trained twice a week and played games on the weekends. The link to the local soccer club created a pathway to local club participation and potential pathways to elite sport. Importantly, it exposed CASP kids to mainstream structures that included informal mentors and volunteer coaches. It also helped them to experience behavioural boundaries and rules that applied to everyday members of the community.
The program also harnesses the game’s attendant rules to develop social relationships, and improve communication, teamwork and leadership skills — life skills that protect vulnerable youth from engaging in risky behaviour. As participant Wilson Poni says, CASP kept him busy and out of trouble.
“We were looked after by the cops. They used to come along to see what was going on. I felt safe ’cause Chris and Tony were there.”
Wilson Poni reported that the longer he participated the better his leadership skills grew, and in time he helped others develop their skills.
Another long-term participant, Ruyad Aden, said CASP deflected him from harm.
“I came here when I was nine years old, and I really enjoyed playing soccer. My older brother still plays soccer and I play basketball now. But soccer was a really good passion of mine when I was younger. I got involved with Chris McGeachan, the guy who runs it. He gave opportunities to a lot of us to go watch games at Ames Park, and Melbourne City. So I kept coming every Monday and got opportunities for leadership. It was really good.”
For the police, the program gives them the means to understand and respond to issues the youth faced before things escalated into more serious offending.
Additionally, the YROs built relationships of trust and respect, thereby breaking down the barriers between police and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) language backgrounds.
Chris McGeachan reports that the program brings him into the lives of young people beyond the boundaries of a sports oval.
“We are asked to be involved at different levels as they grow. Many of [the young participants] are missing extended members of family and other adults who’d ordinarily go through the different stages of life with them — people I take for granted in my life. So they call upon the connections they make with the community.”
He said that the young adults who grow out of CASP remain in contact with the YROs.
“They know that if they come down to Collingwood on a Monday that we’ll be there and they can continue that relationship.”
As McGeachan reported, the statistics show that many of the CASP participants are growing up in an environment that puts them at high risk of criminality, and many will live in Collingwood for quite some time.
“We’re in their backyard delivering a multi-service program, seeing kids getting together with their parents and guardians or whoever they are living with. [Through CASP] we can strike up the relationship and carry it through. Being that conduit, being that familiar person, can assist them right throughout the community. All from that Monday relationship. We’re seeking a big slice of the community each week.”
In 2010, NJC’s Senior Registrar Damian James accepted Chris McGeachan’s request for the NJC to support the program by providing operational and administrative help. It was a logical fit as CASP’s aims align with the NJC’s community justice objectives to:
- build partnerships with community in response to safety and justice issues
- extend engagement with community beyond the traditional four walls of the court.
Damian says CASP gives his team the means to have an ongoing, active community engagement role. As registrars rarely get the opportunity to be involved in community engagement activities, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Through his involvement, Damian knows the names, faces and stories of the participants, and understands the issues and challenges they face. Such close ties help him to forge the trust required to ensure that the NJC can support any young player who finds themselves in court.
Today, the NJC’s registrars participate in the Monday program and they see it as a valuable way of connecting with the one of NJC’s high impact areas.
Local school Collingwood College supports the program by providing access to the oval and facilities, and Yarra Youth Services provides youth worker support. Second Bite, a fresh food community program, and Fair Share provide food and drinks. Over the last ten years, Yarra City Council and the NJC have periodically funded CASP, and both are committed to maintaining support.
Yarra Council’s Youth Participation Officer, Toyin Abbas, said that without CASP a number of young people would find themselves on the other side of the law.
“I keep saying, ‘What if this program is not here?’ I don’t know what some of them would do. What would be happening in Fitzroy, Richmond? They come here and enjoy themselves after school instead of going out to the city to commit crime. [CASP] is great for their health and wellbeing as well.”
In 2012, Hieng instigated the now popular twice yearly awards ceremony. With a slew of medals up for grabs, the event celebrates the efforts of everyone involved in CASP, and gives parents a chance to be part of something that means a lot to their kids.
Every CASP player receives a medal. This promotes and recognises their contributions and personal attributes. Being recognised in front of peers, family, the Magistrate, police, NJC staff and other agency representatives reinforces the message that each young person is a valuable community member.
The NJC records the best and fairest players on an honours board that sits with pride of place in its foyer.
The ceremony has a serious, though subtle, side. Held at the NJC and attended by NJC staff, the police, and community agencies, the event shows the CASP kids that the justice system is here to help, support and protect them. The event sends the message that justice is accessible. The NJC also uses the event to strengthen the bond between it, the young people and their families, and the wider community, and in so doing reinforces the NJC’s founding principle that the community is the centre of the NJC.
And because it takes a village to raise a child, the awards ceremony encourages parents to support not only their children, but all the children. As such, whether cheering from the sidelines, coaching or distributing medals, the NJC encourages the guardians and stewards of these children to be active in children’s lives.
Finally, as Chris McGeachan points out, many people living on the estates, particularly those who are newly arrived to Australia as refugees, do not understand the system. CASP is, therefore an important bridge.
“To have that connection through a community program and a familiar face makes [integration] a bit more seamless, you are further down the track.”
He describes CASP as a valuable way to show some of the most disenfranchised people in our community that they do, in fact, have a say.
While recognised across Yarra for positively engaging newly-arrived and refugee young people with opportunities to participate in mainstream sport, the program is much more than that. It is a testament to how early intervention programs enhance the protective factors young people need to reduce the potential risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Since 2006, 60 young people a year go through CASP, many of whom would be considered at risk of offending.
Many of the older teenagers and young adults go on to volunteer with CASP, and a number are paid coaches. All of these roles develop their leadership skills and give the junior players positive role models.
Although there is a lack of evaluation data for the program, anecdotal evidence suggests that CASP has had a very positive impact on the lives of young people on the Collingwood Estate and the community as a whole.
For NJC, CASP is a valuable way of connecting with communities that are perceived as difficult to engage and hard to reach. It provides staff with a means to nurture relationships of trust that may be leveraged to support disadvantaged young people and their families should they come to court.
Importantly, should a CASP player offend, their connection to NJC enhances their accountability and improves their chances of turning their lives around.
Damian James notes that some of the kids he sees before the NJC’s Children’s Court are CASP players.
“When they get here they can put a face to a name. They arrive at registry and say ‘hang on, you’re Damian from soccer’. This eases a bit of tension, and adds weight to the seriousness of the offending and makes their behaviour a bit more accountable. I can have a discreet chat, and ascertain what supports they have in place and ensure they have a lawyer. I’ll even see if they’ve had breakfast. All of these small supports ease a bit of tension on court days.”
A Collective Impact Approach
In 2013, the Yarra City Council held consultations to help develop the Yarra Middle Years Strategy 2014-2017. It found a lack of consistent data about the health and wellbeing of children and young people with which to inform program planning and delivery.
Yarra City Council Officers and the Victoria Police Youth Resource Officer (YRO) started to scope the potential to implement a CTC Program in Yarra. They met with Mornington Peninsula Council, which had piloted the first CTC program in Victoria in 2002, to get their advice regarding the benefits and value of establishing such a program. Mornington Peninsula had implemented targeted interventions for the past six years and was starting to see a reduction in young people’s alcohol and drug use and early sexual activity.
Yarra councillor Amanda Stone reports on the value of CTC, given the middle years is a neglected area in terms of children and youth services.
“Other than the early years, it is the next most important time to catch kids who may be at risk and invest in their wellbeing as a preventative measure. It is a proven model. It’s well based with research. Yarra has a really good environment in terms of the number of services, and willing and interested groups to implement it.”
At the same time, the CPCJ team was increasingly aware that a number of local young people were disengaging from school and were at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. While the team had data drawn from Yarra Council’s consultation, local demographics and discussions with the police, not much was known about the risk factors for young people and their families.
NJC saw the value and need for a CTC program in the local area, and as such in late 2013, Director NJC, Kerry Walker, invited CTC’s CEO, Professor John Toumbourou, to present to Yarra Council’s CEO, the Mayor and local inspector Bernie Edwards. The NJC pledged to commit funds for a program leader for the next financial year, a crucial pledge for securing financial commitment from Yarra Council, which pledged funds in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 New Initiative Budgets to establish and implement the Yarra CTC Program.
CTC Program Leader Bella Laidlaw explains that young people face complex, entrenched problems that no one organisation or individual can address.
As she puts it, “in working collaboratively we’re aligning our efforts so that we make the maximum impact for the resources we put in.”
In 2014, Yarra Council held a number of engagement workshops and forums to identify program champions and generate stakeholder interest.
By the end of 2014, more than 22 key agencies from across Yarra were directly involved in CTC, including:
- City of Yarra
- Victoria Police
- Neighbourhood Justice Centre
- Cohealth, community health service
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Youth Support and Advocacy Service
- Mission Australia
- Drummond Street Services, family support agency
- Inner Northern Local Learning and Employment Network
- Brotherhood of St Laurence
- The Smith Family
- Kildonan Uniting Care
- Sacred Heart Primary School
- Fitzroy Primary School
- Austin Health, child and adolescent mental health service
- Headspace Collingwood, youth support service
- Berry Street, family and youth services
- Save the Children, Australia
- Polyglot Theatre, participatory theatre
By the end of 2014, a Key Leaders Group, Community Board and several working groups had formed, with collaboration agreements in development.
The CTC process comprises five phases from recruiting stakeholders and key decision makers, to implementation of the Community Action Plan. Critical to each phase is that stakeholders agree to a common agenda and purpose, and are in the program for the long haul
Marjorie Casey, Community Participation, Department of Health and Human Services, says that consensus can make the process challenging.
“Things are slow…this is the nature of doing community-led work. …It takes time. Everyone has to have a shared understanding, everyone needs to agree on what we are working towards.”
However, she says that the need for collective buy-in equates to strength in numbers, and she points out that Yarra is home to many professionals who already apply the community building approach to their work and so possess the program’s key traits of responsiveness and flexibility.
In February 2015, Sacred Heart Primary School in Fitzroy hosted the program’s launch. Over 60 representatives from community agencies, schools, Yarra Council, the NJC and the police signed a banner pledging their commitment to:
- Provide comprehensive data on the health and wellbeing of children that can be used to inform program and service planning and delivery and the implementation of prevention strategies.
- Provide a framework for organisations and young people to work together to identify and address the specific needs of children, young people and their families.
- Build community capacity to deliver effective child and adolescent harm prevention and health promotion initiatives.
To date 26 organisations are represented on the Leadership Group and the Community Board, the two governing bodies that drive the program.
This requires stakeholders from different sectors to:
- commit to a common agenda for change
- agree to solving identified issues by implementing agreed interventions
- share data and measurements
- align their efforts.
For many organisations, the program’s reliance on open and continuous communication, collective agreement and common motivations will be foreign, and some will need to adapt.
For the past two years, the NJC has funded the Program Leader role. In addition, the Centre’s Client Services Manager sits on the Key Leaders Group to give high-level strategic advice, Maree sits on the Facilitation Group that drives the program’s development, and both she and Hieng sit on the Community Board to give support and advice.
Being at the forefront of this initiative sits well with the NJC’s philosophical and practical commitment to creative problem-solving and community justice. As Laidlaw says, the NJC was an early adopter of the partnership, and it provides far more than financial support.
“[The NJC is] showing that the program is innovative, a new way of doing things and something the community should be supporting to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Leading Senior Constable Tony Brewin says the NJC’s financial support is an important symbolic gesture.
“I am really happy the NJC is supporting it. As a police officer I’m interested in crime prevention as a strong role of CTC. And health and wellbeing is a pathway to get there…Having NJC funding shows that it’s got that crime prevention focus.”
In the four months to September 2015, 632 students (357 Year 6, 275 Year 8) from 16 schools completed an extensive survey.
Based on the CTC Youth Survey, this survey gathered information on rates of health and social problems that young people experience. With questions ranging from substance use to diet and nutrition, the survey painted a picture of the risks and protective factors found in community life, schooling, family life and peer groups.
Ultimately, the survey results underpin the program’s work and in time, the young people will participate in finding solutions for many of the problems they spoke about in the survey.
At the time of writing this case study, CTC Ltd had presented a draft report outlining the survey findings to the governing groups for review. Local data will supplement the survey data to provide a comprehensive picture of the health and wellbeing of Yarra’s youth.
In the next stage of the program the governing groups will review all data and prioritise the risk and protective factors that target health and behavioural problems. This will be a complex and challenging process for everyone, and will test the robustness of their agreement to a collective process and outcomes.
Once priorities are identified, the Yarra Community Plan will be developed by CtiC partners outlining an agreed plan for prevention work in the community. It is anticipated that the plan will be developed by mid-2016.
The program faces a number of challenges.
For a start, it requires long-term funding to ensure prevention strategies are implemented as planned in 2016.
Equally challenging will be securing ongoing commitment and collaboration from all stakeholders, particularly as political, service and funding landscapes will undoubtedly change.
However, the program’s stakeholder diversity is one of its main strengths, as a testament to the fact that collectively they have already:
- developed a common agenda and vision
- shared data and measurement systems
- agreed on priority areas for attention
- implemented evidence-based prevention strategies.
This evidence-based process is one the NJC is keen to see implemented across a range of initiatives in Yarra to further strengthen community justice work.
To read the full publication open the link at the bottom of the page.
 Ross, S, Evaluating neighbourhood justice: Measuring and attribution outcomes for a community justice program, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice No,499, pg3
 Ibid pg3