The University of Newcastle’s Name Narrate Navigate (NNN) program has been awarded a grant of $599,335 to support its work in combating youth violence.

Photo by Name Narrate Navigate participants. Photo: Dr Tamara Blakemore.

The program was developed specifically for the Hunter community to respond to the gap in accessible services for young people who are at risk of using violence in their relationships with parents, carers, siblings, partners and peers.

Social work researcher in the School of Humanities, Creative Industries and Social Sciences, Dr Tamara Blakemore, said NNN provided trauma-informed group work programs for 12 to 18-year-olds, as well as training for practitioners.

“It’s a program that has been developed with, and for, the community and one that welcomes the voice of young people who’ve experienced violence as key contributors to its design and delivery,” Dr Blakemore said.

Researchers investigated youth in the local region with a focus on the educational engagement of those before the Children’s Court for Criminal Matters, in an effort to determine how to address the traumatic drivers of young people’s offending behaviour.

“In the initial pilot work, we found an invested service sector in the region that knew these young people’s life stories and their family’s life stories,” Dr Blakemore said.

“There was a real sense of despair, despondency and frustration about the lack of services and support available to work with some of their core experiences—predominately around trauma.”

She said when engaging with local support services one of the reflections researchers encountered was how commonplace violence was for young offenders.

“Not only were they victims, but they were perpetrating violence that was more frequent and more severe, predominately in the context of their family,” Dr Blakemore said.

“It’s significant because it brings a unique trauma-informed and culturally safe perspective to youth violence prevention.”

Dr Blakemore said the program acknowledged that young people who used violence were often victims themselves and that NNN was a tool to help young people build awareness and skills around reducing violence.

“The program achieves results – young people achieve increased self-awareness, self-regulation and skills for connection.”

NNN has been delivered 10 times in the Hunter region since 2018, a location that Dr Blakemore said had high rates of out-of-home care placement, domestic and family violence and youth perpetrated violence.

“The program has reached 110 young people comprising roughly equal numbers of males and females, almost 40 per cent of whom were Aboriginal.”

Dr Tamara Blakemore. Photo source: The University of Newcastle.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics revealed that the Hunter recorded the third-highest number of youth perpetrated domestic violence incidents in 2020. 

In Maitland, 12 per cent of domestic violence (DV) related assaults and 39 per cent of non-DV related assaults were allegedly perpetrated by young people, compared with seven per cent of DV assaults and 24 per cent of non-DV related assaults in NSW. 

Fifty-two per cent of young people with police proceedings against them relating to domestic and family violence charges in Maitland were female, well above the 39 per cent figure for NSW.

Dr Blakemore said young participants attend two-hour group workshops themed around drivers of violence, including emotional literacy, communication, consent, empathy, power and control. 

“This has assisted young people we’ve worked with to return to school, to gain employment for the first time, to make different choices in relationships and to move out of homelessness,” she said.

Youth who graduate from NNN are also offered employment as consultants and peer mentors, helping other young people name and narrate their own experiences of violence.

Dr Blakemore said, to date, professional development had been provided to over 500 cross-sector workers, raising awareness of the continuum of victimisation to perpetration. 

“We’re using visual imagery and creative tools because we know that trauma fundamentally impacts a young person’s ability to name, narrate and navigate their experience post-trauma.

“We try to use different ways to engage with a young person that’s led by the young people.”

Announced by the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, this grant from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ Safer Communities Fund brings total funding for the program to over $2 million.

Maia O’Connor