Mal MacPherson unveils Changing Mindsets plan to target troubled Tamworth kids

Leading the charge: Acting Magistrate Mal MacPherson is pushing for a new plan to be adopted to manage troubled kids in Tamworth. Photo: Peter Hardin 251116PH003

Leading the charge: Acting Magistrate Mal MacPherson is pushing for a new plan to be adopted to manage troubled kids in Tamworth. Photo: Peter Hardin 251116PH003

A LOCAL group are behind a radical new plan to overhaul Tamworth’s troubled youth and get kids back on track and into the education system.

The Leader can reveal the bold plan, called Changing Mindsets, already has the backing of senior education figures and approval from the Board of Studies, and now the group are chasing state funding to get troubled children off the streets and back into the classroom.

Under the proposal, spearheaded by Acting Magistrate Mal MacPherson, a Tamworth-based coordinator would intensely manage disengaged children and oversee an intervention plan that targets the issues fuelling offending.

“Our idea is not an alternative to schooling, it’s to reintegrate these young people back into the education system,” Mr MacPherson told The Leader.

“We’re just going to see another generation doing the same thing if something doesn’t change.

“It’s not a silver bullet, it’s going to be hard work.”

Under the plan, the education department would be the lead agency with a coordinator who intervenes when a young person comes under notice from police.

“They would get a referral to this project and then a coordinator would interview them and find what agencies are needed to engage them, and this could be as part of their bail condition,” Mr MacPherson said.

“In Tamworth there is about 50 young people who are totally disengaged with education, who aren’t going to school.

“About 26 per cent of those are indigenous girls and that’s a concern because they will be mums down the track and if they don’t get educated, it’s another generation that will be lost.”

After 25 years on the bench and 50 years in law circles, Mr MacPherson said the community can’t arrest their way out of the problem or just lock kids up, because in his experience, juveniles learn two things when they go into detention.

“They’ve learnt lessons to put socks on their hands to cover their fingerprints and they burn the evidence and that’s why they take cars and then torch them,” he said.

“We really need to focus on what is at the heart of the disengagement and find out what are the issues are.

“You have to ask why they have committed an offence.”

A business plan has been drawn up and senior figures in the government have already been briefed, with the education department to lead the project.

The plan would cost upwards of $300,000 a year, and if rolled out in Tamworth, would see troubled kids supported to drill down into the cause of the disengagement and rehabilitate them, so they can integrate back into school.

“The issues that we need to focus on is why they’re becoming like this,” Mr MacPherson said.

“Whether it’s sexual assaults, grief, bullying in schools, domestic violence, it can be a whole range of issues these kids are dealing with and they’re not coping.

“They’re angry, they’re acting out and they use drugs and alcohol and turn to crime because they’re not in school.

“There are so many young people that are disengaged with education and you only find that out when they get arrested.

Whether it’s sexual assaults, grief, bullying in schools, domestic violence, it can be a whole range of issues these kids are dealing with and they’re not coping. - Acting Magistrate Mal Macpherson

“What I’m suggesting is we need to change the way we deal with them.”

Mr MacPherson said some youth are very dysfunctional in the community and then they do well in a structured environment where they’re safe, they’re clean, fed and watered, with a roof over their heads.

He said when children are charged by police, they’re often released on bail to front court three or four weeks later.

“They’re on bail, back doing what they’ve done, they have no intervention, so they’re back out breaching their bail,” he said.

“Sometimes there is multiple breaches and then they will come to court with three or four breaches before their case is even mentioned and they’re a danger to themselves and the community so they have to be refused bail.”

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