"Our vision is that Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett can learn, work, be safe, supported and thrive within a robust sense of belonging to their families, community, culture and country."
— Dharriwaa Elders Group
For decades, Elders and the Walgett Aboriginal community have watched, worried and grieved as their children and young people continue to be severely impacted by the legacies of violent dispossession, persistent systemic and institutional racism and failures by systems of education, care and justice that are meant to serve and protect them. The DEG identified this as an urgent priority for Yuwaya Ngarra-li.

Walgett Youth Justice Forum

In 2018, Yuwaya Ngarra-li hosted a Youth Justice Forum at Walgett high school. The aims of the Forum were to:

  • Present data, evidence and information about what is known about young Aboriginal people in Walgett and the justice system
  • Gather community members (young people, families, Elders) and all the critical services, organisations, and Walgett stakeholders (Police, legal and justice agencies, Walgett High School) together to discuss the needs of Aboriginal young people at risk of entering or who are already in the justice system and possible responses
  • Facilitate a public forum that is action oriented and focused on positive, evidence-based solutions.

The forum was attended by more than 70 people including young people, parents, Walgett Aboriginal community organisations including the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and other members of the Walgett Gamilaraay Aboriginal Community Working Party, and service providers and government agencies including NSW Police, Juvenile Justice, Justice NSW, Aboriginal Legal Service, Legal Aid NSW, the Walgett Community College, Walgett Shire Council and Thiyamali Family Violence Service.

Speakers included visiting and local experts, agency representatives, young people, parents and carers on what is contributing to the high rates of young Aboriginal people ending up in the justice system and what local, evidence-based strategies could work to address this and support children and young people in Walgett to thrive in their community. A report of the Youth Justice Forum includes the many suggestions raised throughout the forum of possible strategies and solutions that could address the problems identified, and help Aboriginal young people to thrive in Walgett.

Action plan

Building on the momentum from the Youth Justice Forum, Yuwaya Ngarra-li developed an Action Plan for Children and Young People through discussions with young people, community and Walgett services with these goals:

  • Aboriginal organisations, government agencies, service providers, UNSW and other partners have made clear and funded commitments as part of a long-term plan agreed with the community to improve education, health, housing and employment outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett
  • Young people in Walgett report higher rates of belonging, safety, support, confidence and wellbeing
  • Less than 10% of Aboriginal children and young people aged 10-17 from Walgett are appearing in the Children’s Court (excluding appearances related to diversion).

Action plan strategies

The core strategies of the Action Plan were to:

  • Build relationships of respect and develop effective coordination and collaboration between relevant people and organisations within Walgett to enable us to achieve the goals of this Action Plan.
  • Significantly improve Aboriginal children and young people’s education, training and employment participation and outcomes, including through increased access to relevant services and opportunities.
  • Create effective options for diversion of children and young people from the criminal justice system.
  • Reflect on our practices and processes, build evidence around our shared knowledge and outcomes, and plan the work that will be required to consolidate and improve on our impact. 

Since then, Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been working intensively to progress these goals and strategies.

Bulaarr Bagay Warruwi Burranba-li-gu: ‘Two River Pathway to Change’

A key focus for Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been to build and embed a holistic, community-led model to divert young people from the criminal justice system in Walgett. Our Youth Diversion Demonstration Model, named ‘Bulaarr Bagay Warruwi Burranba-li-gu’ by the DEG Elders Council, aims to create new, positive opportunities and life streams for current and future generations of Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett. 

The Two River Pathway to Change model that we have developed and refined through our collaboration process is, like all of Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s work, underpinned and driven by our core principles and built on the integration of community knowledge and priorities, identified needs, existing evidence, and reflection and lessons from our years of collaboration. It is also systems-focused, with its outcomes and impact designed to be sustained over the long-term.

The youth team's work on the Two River Pathway to Change program uncovered and responded to major gaps in the support for Aboriginal young people and their access to effective diversion from the criminal justice system in Walgett. The intensive work with individual young people has enabled young people to successfully complete youth justice conferences and outcome plans, participate in successful mediation and have successful court appearances diverting fhem from further court appearances and potential incarceration.

In 2023, the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and the DEG have embarked on a collaboration—facilitated and supported by Yuwaya Ngarra-li—to design and then implement a new Walgett Wellbeing Service and accommodation for children and young people.