Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth imprisonment

In October 2018, our Justice Involved Young people network co-hosted a forum called Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth… Voices for Justice, Stories for Change.

It showcased an important report by the Koorie Youth Council (KYC): Ngaga-dji (‘hear me’). The report  voices the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Victoria’s youth justice system and through a Call to Action, presents solutions for the injustices experienced.

For our network co-convenor, Dr Sophie Rudolph and Indi Clarke at the KYC, it was a starting point to think about what this report means for educators and how they might listen more deeply and strongly to the voices and the solutions put forward in the report.

Sophie’s recently published article Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth imprisonment  grows out of the collaboration between our network with the KYC. Her article engages with the Ngaga-dji report to examine how educators and those involved in education might seek to change their practices.

Sophie speaking at the forum in 2018

The myth of the ‘child offender’ – a panel event for Social Sciences Week 2020 – watch the webinar below…

What does it mean to understand the ‘child offender’ as a ‘myth’? How do we – as social scientists, practitioners, researchers, teachers, law enforcers, students, a society – understand the criminalisation of children? Why are some children criminalised more than others? What happens when we criminalise children? And why are these questions important to ask, and to reflect on, for all of us?

This month, JYP-Network co-convenor Dr Diana Johns participated in a panel discussion with other members of the Australia & New Zealand Society of Criminology’s (ANZSOC) newly formed Thematic Group on Children and Young People in the Criminal Justice SystemDr Susie Baidawi (Monash University) and Robyn Oxley (University of Western Sydney). The event was hosted by Thematic Group convenors Dr Emma Colvin, Dr Shelley Turner and Dr Faith Gordon. For the 100+ people who attended the webinar, it was a rich opportunity to explore some of these issues, ask difficult questions, and challenge some of our deeply held and often taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘children’ as ‘offenders’.

Here, Diana briefly explains the concept of ‘myth’ and how it sets the scene for the discussion:

The concept of myth is, at first glance, a familiar one. We all know what ‘myths’ are – they are shared stories that have a function, which is usually to explain something about the world, how it is and how it came to be.

I’m using the concept of myth in a particular way, however, which draws on the ideas of French writer, thinker, essayist, Roland Barthes and his 1957 book, Mythologies. For Barthes, myth has specific meanings, qualities, dimensions and functions that give us a useful way to think about things we take for granted. From a Barthes-ian perspective, myth is a ‘system of communication’, ‘a message’, ‘a mode of signification’ – i.e. it is a form we use to convey meaning – BUT it distorts, it bends our perceptions in two important ways:

1) It removes history – “it transforms history into nature” (p.154) things lose the memory that they once were made” (p.169)

2) It appears as a statement of fact: “it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves.”

These aspects of how myth functions make it a useful conceptual tool (or lens)! If we think about the myth of the ‘child offender’ through this lens, we see that this seemingly simple and recognisable term tends to strip away and conceal all the complexity of children’s lives, all the history of how this term came to be and, indeed, its construction as a legal definition that has changed and continues to change across time and place. As we start to see, this simple and recognisable form – the ‘child offender’ or the ‘youth offender’ – becomes less a concrete ‘thing’ and more a kind of shorthand for a whole set of assumptions that we tend not to question in our day-to-day lives – whether we work with young people, research children in the justice system, or consume images and stories about ‘young offenders’ and ‘youth crime’ in the media.

Watch the recording above to follow the discussion… Hear Robyn talk about how colonisation still shapes the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities in Australia, and how historical practices relate to current forms of criminalisation. Listen to Susie explain the overlap between the youth justice system and the child protection system, how children with neurodisabilities can be criminalised when systems fail them, and how children make sense of their own experiences of criminalisation…

We explore recent examples of ‘the myth of the child offender’ – what it looks like in practice – and we consider concrete ways that we can start to challenge this myth, to deepen our understanding of the complexities it hides, to bring about better outcomes for children.

This will be and always is an ongoing conversation… join in!

P.S. If you only have 5 minutes, here’s a taster… (you can watch the rest later!)

What do we mean by myth?

P.P.S. To read more about Roland Barthes’ notion of myth, here are some links:

Andrew Robinson (2011) gives a good explanation of Barthes’ notion of myth here in a short article (part of a six-part series on Barthes) in Ceasefire Magazine.

This short (3 minute video) animation explains how Barthes helps us understand media myths and myth-making and ‘How to Read the Signs in the News’:

Watch our webinar on building culturally safer and relationally stronger schools

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On 26 August 2020 we co-hosted this webinar with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

Our panel reflected on the challenges and opportunities for building stronger and safer schools to support and value young people.

You can watch the webinar in the youtube link below:

Some of the issues and questions raised by attendees through the Q&A were:

  • The importance of properly listening to First Nations communities.
  • The possibilities and potential challenges of a system of mandatory reporting of racism in schools
  • Some of the challenges and possibilities for teacher education that is reflexive
  • How do we know when we’re doing good anti-racism and decolonial work?
  • How do we move beyond tokenistic understandings of diversity and address cultures of whiteness

Panellists left the audience with some challenges to continue to think about, including:

  • How do teachers hold strong in their humanity while confronting the ways we have been conditioned to see some things and not others?
  • How do we get away from binary and deficit understandings of difference and move towards ways of working that value difference?
  • How do we listen to students even when they tell us things we might not want to hear?
  • How do we deeply know and understand the structures of racism and the multiple effects of racism on young people?

Would you like to be involved in further work in this area? If yes, do you have ideas/suggestions about how you could be involved/where to take this work next?


Please post your repy below or use this contact form:


How can we build culturally safer and relationally stronger schools?

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Your invitation to our free webinar:

Building Culturally Safer and Relationally Stronger Schools

on Wednesday 26 August  2020 at 11:00 AM AEST.

This webinar is co-hosted by our Justice-involved Young People Network with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

Our panel will reflect on the challenges and opportunities for building stronger and safer schools to support and value young people.

In the Victorian government Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-2030 the first key direction is ‘Improving diversion and supporting early intervention and crime prevention’, which includes a commitment to ensuring that young people are engaged in education and connected to school, reducing school expulsion rates, and providing education support and information at the Children’s Court to re-engage young people in education. Education is therefore seen as an important right and an opportunity to strengthen connection and future opportunities. However, education has also been known to be a place in which young people can experience misunderstanding, alienation and discrimination.

This panel will reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities for building stronger and safer schools to support and value young people. If education and schools are to be part of an early intervention and diversion strategy we need to understand both how they may have been failing at this and what might need to occur to enable education to be a place of safety and strength.

The panel draws on the expertise of academics and educators working across youth justice and education contexts to analyse the challenges and propose some opportunities. A range of key ideas will be explored, including: power relations, reflexive teaching, cultural responsiveness, racism, and the importance of relationships in education.

Dr Melitta Hogarth, Kamileroi woman and Assistant Dean Indigenous at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, will explore the question – how do we make our schools less white? Drawing on a chapter written with Professor Tracy Bunda, she will propose some opportunities for addressing what has been an assimilatory impulse in Australian schools. She will examine some of the power relations in schools that impede relationship building and alienate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and will offer some suggestions for what might constitute quality partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Leah Avene is a Tuvaluan mother, musician, broadcaster and educator whose work focuses on personal, relational and collective decolonising. As Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Leader at Parkville College, Leah’s work aims to scrutinize and dismantle colonised culture whilst also celebrating the resilience, resistance and strength of first nations communities and people of colour across the globe. Leah will present a model of culturally responsive pedagogy that seeks to celebrate students strengths and decolonise relationships within the classroom.

Dr Nikki Moodie, is a Gomeroi/Kamileroi woman and Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She will present key findings from a number of systematic literature reviews on Indigenous education, including the impact of racism on the school experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and the factors that contribute to the development of school and Indigenous community engagement.

Dr Jessica Gannaway, Lecturer in Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, will examine possibilities for teacher reflexivity in order to shift teacher dispositions and therefore classroom relationships. Jessica poses that as members of an education system that continues to reify structural inequalities and racism, a teacher’s relational work in classrooms is at the frontlines of where these dynamics continually play out. Jessica explores the ways that teachers can reflect on their own dispositions and worldviews, whiteness and colonisation and their place within structures, in order to shift the way they interact within classroom communities.

The panel will be chaired by Dr Sophie Rudolph, Lecturer in Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and co-convener of the Justice-involved Young People Network.

Register to attend here.


Why we support the national call to #RaiseTheAge

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As some of us know that right now across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested by police, hauled before a court and locked away.

That’s why our network is proud to join with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organistions, medical and human rights legal experts to call for Australian governments to #RaiseTheAge of legal responsibility from 10 to 14.

Because children need care, love and support. Not handcuffs and prisons.

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Photo by Pixabay on


And watch this story on The Project:

With all that’s happened lately, you might be wondering what we can actually do to stop so many Indigenous Aussies being locked up, and killed. Well, there’s one key change that could make a huge difference and that’s to stop treating kids as criminals.


So, please consider joining us by signing the petition to keep kids in community:

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Together we can #RaiseTheAge across Australia