South Australians aged 12 to 25 have had the opportunity to shape the future of the state, with the State Government providing them opportunity to share their views about the key issues affecting them.
With the consultation phase of South Australia’s Youth Action Plan 2023-2026 now closed, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is analysing the information presented via YourSAy.
Background of the Youth Action Plan
Young people hold the key to the future (duh). They deserve to be taken seriously, listened to and included in important conversations. While there are now more opportunities for young people than there ever have been, there’s still work to be done to ensure young people can flourish.
SA’s Youth Action Plan proposes five key areas for action:
- Physical health, and social and emotional wellbeing and mental health
- Safety and justice
- Education and employment
- Connections and access to resources
- Citizenship and participation
“Young people are finally taking the reins again”
Those are the words of 19-year-old Zane LeBlond, who has been involved in youth volunteering and activism since he was 16. He’s the City of Marion’s Young Citizen of the Year (2023), a council member on the Minister for Human Services’ Youth Advisory Council, plus a blogger on all things related to journalism, politics, fashion, law and SA.
A big issue Zane would like to see addressed in the plan is mental health. “A lot of young people don’t know what their purpose is, what they’re trying to do or achieve,” he says. “In this day and age we’ve got social media, the pressures of general life, all the other things that happen like Covid and cost of living going up – put learning to deal with identity and pressures like family and economy on top … it’s a lot.”
So what’s his proposal? “We need to explore the option of having greater mental health education among all teachers, so staff know how to talk to students about these tough subjects,” he says. This year, the State Government has rolled out the School Mental Health Service, which will see mental health practitioners based in high schools across the state. This service supports existing mental health and wellbeing services already in schools, like wellbeing leaders and student support services.
Then there’s education. Zane says it’s important that life skills, such as doing taxes and budgeting, are taught in all schools. When some young people learn these important life skills but others don’t, he says it “creates a social barrier and economic barrier”. Which brings us to the next big issue: cost of living. For almost all of Zane’s friends and the young people he works with, this is the “big issue of the day”.
“As for the cost of living, free public transport for teens and students would make a big difference,” says Zane.
Zane feels it’s important for young people to have a say on the issues that affect them for two reasons: one, because young people will become the adults and the decision makers, and two, because they’re the ones who will be affected [by decisions] in the long term. Young people are a significant percentage of the population, and “you can’t make a decision and take out that percentage,” he says – “then you’re not making decisions that matter to the whole population”.
Sarah Clark – who works at SAHMRI, is a youth mentor at the Sammy D Foundation and also a coach at the Adelaide Thunderbirds – agrees. “I think it is important for young people to have a say as it gives a true narrative and insight on realistic struggles young people face,” the 21-year-old says. “It is extremely important to ask all young South Australians of different backgrounds, as that too brings new perspective to the discussion and will ignite and frame different ideas,” Sarah – who is a proud member of the Dieri, Barkindji, Wirangu and Kokatha language groups – says.
When it comes to the future for young people, both Sarah and Zane are hopeful.
“While we started off the decade a bit rocky, young people are finally taking the reins again,” says Zane. There’s work to do, but important changes towards giving young people a voice are happening at local, state and federal levels, he says. “I feel quite confident that young people are beginning to be listened to.”
Sarah’s view is much the same: “I feel confident that I can say I have witnessed fellow young South Australians take a step in a positive direction in terms of reaching out for help and communicating struggles,” she says. “Coming from an Aboriginal perspective, I have seen a great number of young Aboriginal youth flourish when given opportunities in education and employment, especially when First Nation youths are placed in suitable environments.”
What are the next steps?
Now that the consultation phase has closed, giving South Australians aged 12 to 25 the opportunity to have a say, the feedback is with DHS, which will analyse and draft the plan, which will then be submitted to the Minister for Human Services. Once it’s adopted, the world – or at least SA – is young people’s oyster! (Not that it isn’t already, let’s be honest.)