The Brimbank Young Men’s Project has been a two year pilot initiative of the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). The project has targeted young men of African backgrounds who are: disengaged (or at high risk of being disengaged) from education, training and employment; have had contact with the police; and are experiencing other difficulties with settlement. Geographical perimeters of the project were defined as Brimbank LGA 'and surrounds'. The project has drawn on multiple partnerships within North-western region youth and welfare sectors, notably the Victoria Police Multicultural Liaison Centre.


Interviews with program staff and stakeholders indicate that a number of themes and issues highlighted by the Literature have been replicated in the settlement experiences of the program’s target population. For instance, they cite frustration with the education system as a key determinant of young men from refugee backgrounds becoming disengaged from education, training and employment. Other factors can include (a) a clash between the young person’s aspirations and the reality of life, education and opportunity in Australia; (b) the young person’s level of education prior to arrival; and (c) the refugee community’s tendency to highly value success at school and sometimes assume this guarantees access to university and success in a white collar (higher status) job.

In identifying determinants that lead to young men becoming disconnected from family and community, interviewees (a) highlighted instances of familial role-reversal within the target group for whom home and the wider community sometimes seem to exist in separate worlds; (b) recognised that the long-term impact of the refugee experience can adversely affect individuals’ capacity to parent. Youth frustration can be compounded by intergenerational conflicts such as pressure to maintain traditional cultural mores or achieve educationally versus peer pressure to conform to the new environment.

Tensions between a young man and family typically reach crisis point at age 16 when Centrelink provides him with Youth Allowance (paid directly to the young person). In terms of education, training and employment, interviewees highlighted challenges faced by young men in regard to contextual factors (specifically, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination), blocked economic opportunities within the labour market, alcohol and substance abuse, lack of an established African community able to supply employment or rehabilitation options in Australia, inadequate or inaccessible information - both before and after arrival, the complexity of the service system, accommodation problems, resistance to counselling, etc, etc. Above all, program staff cites lack of trust/hope as the primary barrier to be surmounted by young men who feel (a) that the system has let them down, (b) that nobody cares; and (c) that there are few positives available to them within either their own or the larger community.

As regards barriers to re-engagement with family and community, staff note that some of the young men have been identified by their community as trouble-makers and have been rejected by more than just parents. In some cases, the relationship is so damaged that the young men are unable to contact family members. Even so, a number of young men have expressed a strong desire to reconnect with family/community, and that this desire is reportedly quite common after three or four years away from home.

Staff cites personal contact and help with service access as important strategies in reconnecting young men to education or employment while there is general recognition in the literature that the best means of combating barriers to acculturation and/or reconnection come from strong families and supportive co-ethnic communities. In this regard, interviewees cite the strategic value of engaging and talking with community elders and taking advantage of their willingness to attend project meetings.

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