Suspending young people from school for bad behaviour, rather than keeping them there, could push them into a life of crime, reports Galilee School staff.
Numerous studies confirm that juvenile delinquency is related to academic achievement and other school-related variables (Siegel Welsh & Senna, 2006), and Galilee School staff agree that many of the underlying causes of their students’ delinquent behaviour, and the prevention and control of it, is intimately connected with their experience of school; the nature and quality of it (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). Furthermore, research shows that students’ risk and protective factors are among the most important contributing factors to their delinquent behaviour and it is Galilee’s philosophy to target these. Although there are limitations to this approach – and “most theorists agree that the educational system bears some responsible for the high rates of juvenile crime” (Siegel et al., 2006, p. 273) – the perseverance of the staff to prevent youth crime is a real strength of Galilee School. For example, four years ago, at the age of thirteen, a student from one of Canberra’s mainstream schools began misbehaving there; he started getting into fights, and swearing at and not listening to his teachers, Galilee School staff later told (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). He slid into contact with the juvenile justice system and, like his father and step-father before him, had a high likelihood of living a life of crime. However, enrolling in Galilee School helped changed the course of his life (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018), and not only did he move on to college, he began a carpentry apprenticeship with the help of the staff and is mentored by men who are the roles models his father and step-father never were (see also Beresford, 2012 for similar case studies).
Given the fact that Galilee School staff have been headbutted, punched and spat-on, and had the walls and windows of their school smashed and graffitied (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018), it would seem unlike that anyone would describe their students as anything but ‘deviants’. To the staff though, this is not who they are but who they are likely to become because mainstream schools fail to consider the challenges that many of them face just trying to get themselves into the classroom (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2008). As the staff of Communities@Work’s Galilee School in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), they are charged with the hard task of educating fifty students in Years 7 to 10 with severe behavioural disorders (Communities@Work, 2017); these are the young people who have, as Roorda (as cited in Bisset, 2008) described it, “reached the end of the line” (p. 14) for police cautions and warnings. Often suspended repeatedly from mainstream schools because of their aggressive behaviour (Bisset, 2008), many of these students have a history of trauma, mental health issues and family violence (FV) that has not been addressed by their educators until enrolling in Galilee School (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). Galilee’s team of eight teachers and five youth workers have a ‘Whatever It Takes’ approach to address their students’ risk and protective factors so that they stay in the school system and out of the justice one (Baker, 2017). Committed educators, they provide students meals, personal care necessities and transport to and from Galilee School, and are passionate about the need to suspend or incarcerate a student who engages in violence as a last resort option; the staff advocate to minimise the number of days their students spend away from school and in the cells (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). Depending on the severity of the student’s offence, a case conference may be held at Galilee School with their parents, Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) caseworkers and any other service providers to address the cause of the student’s issues and to determine the best method of punishment with the staff (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). The fact is that young people need to understand that their actions have consequences, but simple kicking them out of school, locking them up and throwing away the key is not the answer; “otherwise we are talking about kids who, if they’re not at school, can do anything – up to 15 break-and-enters in a day” (Roorda as cited in Bisset, 2008, p. 14) and the cycle of incarceration will continue.
Strong claims have been made by criminologists that schools play a role in the creation of patterns and prevention of criminality among all young people; however, this role may be more intensive for Galilee’s students who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and/or experience some level of disadvantage in mainstream schools and as members of the community (Beresford, 2007). In fact, the staff argue that inequality in mainstream schools in the major contributing agent in their students’ delinquent behaviour (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018) and strain theorists would agree that it “is a natural reaction to a system that judges all school students according to the same ‘middle-class measuring rod’, despite differences in students’ opportunities to achieve these standards” (Gottfredson, 2001, p. 2). Those whose behaviour did not conform with their teachers’ expectations of students felt the strain associated with academic failure, rebelled against class norms and were referred to Galilee School. As a counter to criticisms of mainstream schools, Galilee School is recognised as an important agency in preventing juvenile delinquency in the ACT. As a report into children involved in the criminal justice system pointed out, teachers in mainstream schools are primarily educators not welfare workers (Australian Law Reform Commission [ALRC], 1997), but the 5:1 student to teacher ratio and help from youth workers at Galilee School best places the staff to identify and provide initial support to their students who have slipped through the cracks. Social control theory supports this view of Galilee School because “individuals with strong bonds to mainstream institutions are less likely to engage in delinquent activities than those who bonds are weakened” (Hirschi as cited in Beresford, 2007, p. 205). According to Galilee School staff, attachment to school is one of their students’ biggest protective factor and is targeted through Individualised Learning Plans (ILP) so that their students like coming to school and find the work interesting and achievable (Communities@Work, 2017). Furthermore, one of the key risk factors underlying Galilee students’ delinquency is their precarious relationship with schools, and staff hope to increase the value they place on education. The positive role which Galilee School plays in delinquency reduction is based upon research showing that traits associated with anti-social behaviour are evident in students in their early years of schooling (Beresford, 2001), but even in later years these students’ behaviours are amendable to change with the right support from their educators. Among the approaches Galilee School has adopted to do this, there are strengths and limitations of their staff.
Like police, school staff can be important gatekeepers to the criminal justice system (Beresford, 2011), and while it has not been common for their staff to be thought of in this way, the emotional and practical implications of their everyday interactions with young people make Galilee School staff perfect for the job (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). Whether through early intervention, positive attitudes, comprehensive assessment, cultural competency or another one of their staff’s strengths, young people who enrol in Galilee School will likely make a steady progression back into education and out of the harsher ends of the justice system (Beresford, 2011). Furthermore, one recently highlighted limitation of mainstream schools was their failure to recognise and respond to young people problems at home (House of Representatives, 2011). For example, according to the Galilee School staff, an Indigenous young person with a heroin-addicted mother slipped through all the nets of early detection and assessment in one of ACT’s mainstream schools (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). He struggled and acted up in class because of what was happening at home, but his behaviour was simply attributed to ‘bad’ by his teachers (J. Artup, personal communication, June, 2018). Rather than address the cause of his problems, the education system dealt with the young person through punishment, exclusion and referral to Galilee School. Not surprising, the young person drifted out of education, became addicted to heroin and had started offending to fund his habit when he arrived at Galilee School (see also House of Representatives, 2011 for similar case studies). Therefore, it is argued that their holistic approaches to deal with the high likelihood of trauma, mental health issues and FV present among those young people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system is a real strength of Galilee School staff. Yet, the challenges of meeting the needs of Galilee students cannot be underestimated, and one of the school’s limitations is inadvertently highlighted by the experience of young people in custody. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Commissioner (ATSISJC 2008) foregrounded the issue that some young people are actually more functional when they are in custody because they respond to the structure, routine and certainty of it, compared to their chaotic lives outside of the walls. While this is not a justification for custody, it does show that Galilee’s strategies and structure may work to support young people in the classroom, but probably not outside of it.
The over-representation of uneducated young people in the juvenile justice system is a continuing challenge to Galilee’s commitment to education as outlined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR], 1990). An understanding of these issues is a particular strength for both the teachers and youth workers as is their perseverance to overcome them. Although the students’ issues present in here do not apply to all students, they constitute widespread patterns and experiences for many young people in the ACT. For example, in the ACT, school staff will come up against students who have become disillusioned with school and engage in crime instead and/or who have siblings caught up in the juvenile justice system and see it “as a kind of rite of passage” (Beresford, 2011, p. 237). Many will be growing up in dysfunctional single-parent households with addicted parents, who are violent, and some will attempt to reintegrate into the education system following their release from detection (Beresford, 2011). Therefore, it seems all educators in the ACT need to be informed about the causes of juvenile crime, the role of their school as both a contributing and preventive factor, and the ways in which the justice system impacts upon their students and families. With a sophisticated understanding of the complex social issues facing their students, Galilee School staff play a crucial role in helping construct a positive future for these young people, where they can be free.
- Australian Law Reform Commission. (1997). Seen and Head: Priority for Children in the Legal Process. (No. 84). Retrieved from https://www.alrc.gov.au/publication/seen-and-heard-priority-for-children-in-the-legal-process-alrc-report-84
- Baker, E. (2017). Communities@Work Galilee School opens new Holder campus. Retrieved from https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6029514/communitieswork-galilee-school-opens-new-holder-campus/
- Beresford, Q. (2012). Crime, justice and Aboriginal youth. In Q. Beresford, G. Partington, & Gower, G (Eds.), Reform and Resistance in Aboriginal Education (pp. 235-260). Crawley, Australia: UWA Publishing.
- Bisset, K. (2008). Solving problem children. In J. Healey (Ed.), Juvenile Crime (pp. 14 – 16). Thirroul, Australia: The Spinney Press.
- Communities@Work. (2017). Annual Report Galilee School. Retrieved from https://commsatwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Communities@Work-Galilee-School-2017-Annual-Report.pdf
- Gottfredson, D. (2001). Schools and Delinquency. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Siegel, L. J., Welsh, B. C., & Senna, J. J. (2006). Juvenile Delinquency (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth.