Turning lives around

Deb Monteith with two local teenagers.
Deb Monteith with two local teenagers.

Police, corrective and child protection services, schools and courts can all refer 16 and 17-year-olds, who have left school and have had brushes with the law, to Stepping Stones.

Eighteen attend the 40-week full-time program at Gosnells PCYC, where they can get Year 10 equivalency through hands-on learning focused on their immediate needs.

Ms Monteith said most were estranged from their families.

Some were homeless and others in foster or Department of Child Protection homes.

She said a 15-year-old who left school in Year 4, for example, would not have the skills to re-enter at Year 10.

One of her students, though bright, had been unable to count past 20 or multiply two by two.

‘That’s where a lot of behavioural issues in schools start,’ she said.

‘We also focus on health ” think of all the things you miss out on if you have not been going to school.

‘No gym, no dental, visibility or hearing checks, no health teacher, no teacher with any knowledge of your home life to keep an eye on you.

‘The education system has failed these kids, but it’s them who feel like failures. With a bit of one-on-one help they can learn very quickly and are willing participants who recognise this as their chance.’

Ms Monteith said most wanted to care for themselves, physically and financially, but literacy and numeracy deficits were a common barrier.

Stepping Stones’ edge over other programs was its focus on overcoming that.

Centacare WA provided a specialist educator and mentors helped with life skills.

If students needed to learn to cook, or get a driver’s license to get ahead, they could learn to read using recipe or road-rule books.

They got help to apply for jobs, enrol in Tafe courses or even go back to school.

‘It’s full of highs and lows, great moments of feeling that it’s all worthwhile,’ Ms Mon-teith said.

‘It’s a struggle to combat Perth’s population of youth at-risk, but it’s very satisfying when we’ve had success.’

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