4. Establishing a Student Support Group
School principals must establish a Student Support Group (SSG) for every young person in Youth Justice. This is also a requirement for young people in out-of-home care, who are Aboriginal1 and/or supported by the Program for Students with Disabilities).
4.1 Aims of the Student Support Group
The SSG should be utilised to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with a young person and their parents/carers and monitor and review its implementation. By working together, the group can devise strategies to optimise student wellbeing and achievement and to address potential barriers and challenges to engagement
Key aims of the SSG are to:
- ensure that those with the most knowledge of, and responsibility for, the student work together to establish shared goals for the student's educational future
- plan reasonable adjustments for the student to access the curriculum
- provide educational planning that is ongoing throughout the student's life
- monitor the progress of the student.
A school must hold meetings on a termly basis, with extra meetings held at the request of the youth justice case manager and the parent or carer.
4.2 Members of the Student Support Group for students in youth justice
The following is a list of relevant people that may attend SSGs:
- a teacher, year level coordinator, the learning mentor and Principal or Assistant Principal
- student wellbeing staff member and/or student support services officer
- the young person and their parents or carer
- other relevant support services
- the youth justice case manager*.
*Young people in youth justice are assigned a case manager. This case manager will convene a care team and develop a case plan that responds to a young person’s criminogenic risks and needs. Members of the SSG may be asked or request to attend a care team meeting. This is useful if additional support is needed to ensure a young person is engaged in education and supported to reach their potential.
4.3 Running a Student Support Group for students in youth justice
Empowering young people
Where a young person attends the SSG, it is critical to ensure that they feel supported and listened to, and that other attendees hold them in positive regard and support the young person to be aspirational in their planning. Conversations should be strengths-based, where the young person’s strengths are praised, and deficits are framed as areas for growth and development.
The learning mentor can advocate for the young person, and/or ensure that they are involved in the discussions. Research shows that when young people set their own educational goals they are in the best position to achieve them.
Respectfully engaging families
Care should also be taken to respectfully engage with parents and carers, who will likely have the greatest understanding of their child. This is particularly critical for families who may have experienced racism or faced other systemic barriers to engaging with schools.
Strategies to support the meaningful participation of families, include:
- being respectful and non-judgemental
- arranging interpreters where needed
- scheduling the SSG at a time and place suited to the family
- being respectful of a family’s culture and traditions (refer to advice on cross-cultural communication below)
- opening SSG meetings by:
It is best practice for the school to:
- prepare the agendas and facilitate meetings
- ensure that the meeting follows the agenda within the allocated time
- take minutes and document/disseminate key actions among participants in a timely manner
- encourage members to respect each other’s views, knowledge and expertise, and collaborate as a team to meet the best interests of the student
- be aware that carers are likely to have the greatest understanding of the child and young person, and it is integral that their meaningful participation is supported
- encourage members to consider the language and terminology used during meetings to ensure that all members (particularly carers and students), are informed, comfortable and have the capacity to equally participate in the group
- schedule meetings in advance to ensure the availability of all members
- hold additional meetings on an as-needed basis, if requested by group members
- encourage reflection and creative problem-solving.
4.4 Cross Cultural Communication
Consider the following approaches to support respectful engagement with students and families who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, Pasifika of African heritage or from other culturally and racially diverse groups:
- Introductory protocols are important. Be open and respectful and establish rapport by spending time sharing personal background information about yourself and the purpose of your activity.
- Be patient and use open-ended questions where possible. Look, listen and learn, as it may take time for some community people to become involved. Some people may work towards giving their opinions by initially talking about other issues or stories.
- Use reflective listening skills (repeating or paraphrasing what you heard allows the person you are communicating with to clarify what they said and provides them with the opportunity to correct misinterpretations).
- Avoid talking from your personal perspective and use language that respects the integrity and beliefs of the person or group with whom you are meeting.
- Do not expect every student or their parents/carers to know about or want to talk publicly about their cultures, families, histories or issues.
- Some people might not openly express an opinion. They may choose to talk indirectly about an issue if they do not agree with the previous speaker or where it impinges on racialised experiences. Not all people will share the same opinions and feelings. All opinions should be acknowledged and valued.
- The use of silence should not be misunderstood. It is important that this silence is respected and not interrupted unnecessarily.
- There are different types of knowledge systems – for example, spiritual knowledge and scientific knowledge – and these may conflict. Be sensitive to these differences and do not force a point of view.
(Source: Adapted and expanded from Drama Australia).
1 Throughout this document the term Aboriginal is used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Reviewed 22 February 2023