The Bridge Youth Service Workers, Mitchell Shire councillors, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood and Liberal candidate for McEwen Richard Welch celebrate last week's funding announcement.

By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire youth workers and council leaders have welcomed a Federal Government grant of $345,568 for an early intervention youth program in Wallan, saying it will help create a safer community.

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood joined Liberal candidate for McEwen Richard Welch in Wallan on Thursday to announce the funding for The Bridge Youth Service, which has branches in Wallan, Seymour, Shepparton and Cobram.

The Wallan branch, at 119 Wellington Street, will use the money to employ a worker to run a U-Krew program, which will involve a series of after-school workshops designed to youth at risk of offending life skills and provide a social outlet.

The money will be provided through the government’s Safer Communities Fund.

Planned workshops through the program will include a cook class at The Bridge’s kitchen facility, a discussion on emotional regulation skills, an experience led by community leaders to facilitate educational and vocational skills, and a high-adrenaline activity or experience for young people who attend three or more sessions.

The Bridge chief executive Melinda Lawley said evidence showed that early-intervention programs were effective at reducing future offending.

“The majority of our work at the moment is case management, where it’s one-on-one and the young person has found themselves in situations that maybe could have been prevented,” she said.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to begin working with young people who haven’t gotten themselves into strife or yet are maybe in a little bit but just want to come and get some support and find their purpose.

“It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time, because our staff can see that working a bit earlier rather than waiting for a crisis is really beneficial for everyone.”

Wallan Police youth engagement officer Senior Constable Ryan Coleman said he was a big supporter of early intervention programs.

“Victoria Police has introduced a school engagement model this year, so this will go hand-in-hand with that,” he said.

Mr Wood commended The Bridge on its application and said the latest round of grants under the Safer Communities Fund had been competitive.

“The Department of Home Affairs said $20 million would be enough. Lo and behold, the department had 440 applications, of which 380 were eligible. The total to fund all of those was going to be about $380 million,” he said.

“We had to allocate another $50 million in this year’s budget. Congratulations to those who put the application together, because we know there’s about another 200 [groups] who missed out.”

Mr Welch said he was a supporter of the program.

“The earlier you understand what your objectives and drivers are, the easier it is to walk through life on a good path and keep out of trouble,” he said.

“With a growing population, we don’t want major social issues in this area. Social infrastructure, alongside good roads and schools and sporting facilities, is part of that broader formula for a sustainable Wallan community.”

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