Working Together to Create Positive Change for Perth's Underprivileged Kids
Karina Chicote is the very inspiring and passionate change maker behind the Youth Partnership Project - a program which brings together government agencies and community sectors to help change the future for Western Australia’s young and vulnerable. She is a campaigner for child human rights and currently works for Save the Children Australia, the Youth Affairs Council of WA and is a writer and contributor for Kin Women. I sat down with her to talk about her passion and vision for equality and opportunity for Aboriginal children in Armadale.
What made you want to become involved in human rights?
I had a lot of challenges growing up. I was one of ten siblings who were older than me and there were issues ranging from domestic violence and drug abuse. There were people outside my immediate family who were role models for me and showed me a different life that I wanted to live. Because of them I wanted to give back to other young people. Youth is such a vulnerable time in our life so I wanted to be a person that could actually provide that support.
When I started working with young Aboriginal people I just couldn’t un-see what I had seen. There are so many young Aboriginal people in our juvenile justice system, in child protection systems. I wanted to provide some leadership and some vision.
I went on to do my masters in human rights in 2011 and I had lots of opportunities with work along the way - working on global campaigns and also on Manus Island with asylum seekers. When I was doing my dissertation I really wanted to understand more about Aboriginal children and inequality. Why is it always the same story? Why aren’t things getting better? I really just wanted to be a part of the solution.
Tell me about the Youth Partnership Project.
I’ve been leading the Youth Partnership Project for the last year and a half. It’s government and non-government getting together and saying ‘hey, we’re not getting this right. There are too many kids ending up in jail so how can we do that better?’
I’ve worked in communities like Armadale, in particular, for a long time and I’ve watched kids grow up. When they were 7 years old I could predict where they were going to end up - in the juvenile justice system. The thing is if you can predict it, you can prevent it.
Many of the kids in our detention centres have had some kind of trauma happen to them. If you can directly link disadvantage, poverty and family history with criminal youth offending then surely we can provide support rather than reacting to a behaviour later on. It’s smart justice.
Last year we spent $48M locking kids up and nothing is any different. One in two of those kids will end up back in detention again. So there must be a better solution. No kid wakes up and goes ‘I wanna be a criminal.’
There are so many resources going into these communities yet we end up with the same outcome and kids aren’t better off for it. So the whole objective is about inspiring those young people early and providing them with the right support. Recognising that it’s not just one organisation or one person that’s going to make a difference. It takes a whole pool of people (teachers, police, government, etc) to understand that kids aren’t born bad, it’s that bad circumstances lead to bad things. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have consequences to bad behaviour. These kids are born into homes with bad circumstances, not by any choice of their own, and yet we expect them to behave differently to the generations before them without any support given to them.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Any significant social change is complex and requires the collective will, intelligence and commitment of many. A challenge for me in leading such projects is not getting pulled down by the small stuff. You know, when someone is being unnecessarily critical or focuses more on what we could be doing better oppose to what we've achieved, or my personal favorite, when someone mistakes 'big thinking' for 'naivety'. Significant social change requires sustained energy, passion and persistence, most of the time that comes easy, because our team genuinely believe we can achieve what we set out to achieve. But sometimes, I'm caught off guard and a negative comment can momentarily distract me from the bigger picture. I'm grateful for a great team of people that surround me, not just in our organisation, but in the community at large. We're believing together that the future can be different from the present, and we have the power to make it so.
Finish this sentence. Privilege is…
The fact that some people are born into circumstances where they don’t need much help to do things but for other kids that’s not the case. Some kids do actually need a lot more help so for me its about standing for equality. If you look at Australia, we say everyone has equal opportunity. Not for the most vulnerable. They just don’t have the same opportunities.
The challenge is that people are just not aware of their own privilege. It’s easy for people to judge that someone else is doing wrong but they haven’t had the same opportunities or been born into the same circumstances. That’s not to say you can’t do well if you are born into those circumstances. But they need support. It’s about seeing bigger than your own story and recognising that everyone has a different story. It’s not about judging them, it’s about coming alongside them.
How has God helped you on your journey?
He keeps me grounded and humble.
Everything that Jesus was, I want to be - kind, patient, being with those people that others reject. Being courageous. I wanna be that. I want that in my life. The example of who Jesus is and was inspires me. The people who God chose in the bible are just as messed up as me! It keeps me grounded.
God reminds us that we are part of a much bigger picture. I just get to be a part of His story.
What do you want others to be inspired or encouraged to do?
I want people to be passionate about something and be tenacious enough to pursue it. Not let the challenge deter you from the vision.
There is so much relentless persistence behind what we do, what we believe in. So, firstly, be passionate about something, secondly, don’t let challenges deter you because no one has all the answers. If they did your vision would’ve been achieved by someone else.
Take for instance Daniel Flynn from the Thank you project. He was trying to be innovative and push boundaries and people were calling him naive and he couldn’t do it. Now it’s an international success. That’s my inspiration. Hearing about other people’s vulnerability and they still have the tenacity and courage to pursue their dreams.
When I started this role I had people, out of concern, ask whether I was ready for this role or say that I wasn’t up to it. It made me completely question what I was doing. I tried to quit five times.
But I have really good people in my life - my circle of wisdom. My husband is a great support. He believes in me more than I believe in myself. He’s always saying ‘you can do it’. He shares the load at home. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without that.
Who inspires you?
I read a lot. I love listening to other people’s stories.
I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She has been voted the top 5 most powerful women by Forbes. People think she must have it all together but in the book, she says, she really doesn’t - she used to think that people might find out she’s a fraud. I just loved that.
I think we have this perception that successful people always have it together and that they know what they’re doing. They’re amazing, they’re born with gifts but I’ve learnt time and time again that it’s not the case. No one does.
What is your vision for the future?
I have a passion and vision that, firstly we will change the stats for Armadale kids and then we will take it to the state.
1600 times young kids have walked through the gates of our detention centre. That was just last year. My vision is that we reduce the number of times young people walk into detention centres. 1 in 12 of those kids are from Armadale. I want to see that reduced. Someone said “if we designed this system then we can re-design it.” I genuinely believe that we can do this. Sometimes when I’m sitting in board meetings with directors, ministers it can come across naive but what have I got to lose? Someone has to put it out there.
If you want to hear more from Karina or find out more about the issues in this article check out the links below: