Funding cut threatens the hopes of disadvantaged teens

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Lyn Harrison (left), of Rosemount Good Shepherd, with (from left) Carmel Tebbutt, MP for Marrickville, and HSC students Sophie and Taylor.
Lyn Harrison (left), of Rosemount Good Shepherd, with (from left) Carmel Tebbutt, MP for Marrickville, and HSC students Sophie and Taylor.

Nine teenage girls battling to overcome challenges including underprivileged backgrounds and crippling anxiety are facing a $20,000 funding shortfall after the Federal Government withdrew its financial support of an education program for young people at risk.

Rosemount Good Shepherd is the eastern suburbs and western Sydney provider of Youth Connections, a flexible education program educating about 30,000 young people nation-wide.

For many, the program’s counsellors and mentors provide the necessary support to pursue education rather than drop out in favour of welfare.

In her five years at Rosemount Good Shepherd 17-year-old Grace has overcome severe anxiety to study for the HSC and pursue a vocational education in partnership with TAFE.

“Rosemount has changed my life,” she said.

“My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t even get out of the car, but [teacher] Peta used to come and coax me out.

“I just wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without Rosemount.”

Aboriginal student Taylor, also 17, has attained the highest level of education of any member of her family after her four years in the program and now dreams of studying medicine.

But her future is in doubt, with the program’s funding to end six months before she is due to finish the HSC.

“I found this funding decision really hard to process,” she said.

“Students who’ve been bullied just can’t go back to mainstream schooling. Why get rid of something that does so much good?”

RMIT health sciences lecturer Dr Adrian Tomyn examined the experiences of more than 23,000 Youth Connections students in 2012.

He found “overwhelming scientific evidence that the Youth Connections program is achieving one of its major aims − improving psychological outcomes for a significant proportion of young people who successfully complete the program”.

“There is little doubt that for many young people, their experiences with Youth Connections will be a major turning point in their lives,” he said.

A family foundation has donated $100,000 of the $130,000 needed to pay a teacher’s aide for two years.

A further $10,000 was donated following an impassioned plea on petition website Change.org by 17-year-old Sophie Mazzito.

The closure of Youth Connections at Rosemount would “shatter my world”, Sophie said.

“I won’t be able to graduate, and the arrangement means I’ll probably lose my house, too.

“I’m the eldest of six siblings. I couldn’t go to a regular school because I had to put every ounce of energy into helping my mum raise the other kids.

“Now, at Rosemount, I’m finally on track to graduate, so I’ve actually been able to secure a place to live.

“Ending of the Rosemount service would mean going back to square one for the nine of us.”

Up to 15 per cent of Australian high school students will experience mental illness before they finish school, said Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services chief executive Lynn Harrison.

“It is critical that these students are supported to value their education and remain engaged with the community,” she said.

“By removing Youth Connections funding, the Federal Government will be removing the support these young people need to avoid a life-time of poverty and welfare reliance.”