You’re 12 years old. It’s dark, late, and now you’re stranded after an older cousin brought you into the city then left you alone.
You’ve missed the last train home so reluctantly you decided to hang out at the skate park until the trains start running again in the morning.
It’s a story that happens to kids in real life, according to Jess Bigg. As coordinator of Youth Beat in Adelaide since November 2013, she travels the city at night, collecting stories and helping strangers.
“We meet kids in the city on the street as young as 12, sometimes even younger, at crazy hours of the night,” Jess said. “We would love to see less of that.”
Youth Beat is a Mission Australia program which aims to provide after hours support to ‘at risk’ young people in Adelaide’s CBD. A team of youth workers and volunteers patrol the city on Friday and Saturday nights, helping out young people aged between 12 and 25 who need assistance.
With their distinctive green van stocked with supplies like First Aid kits, blankets, chips, and water, the Youth Beat team help young people experiencing difficulty and connect them to other health, housing or social services.
Jess said the short-term goal of the Youth Beat team is to become a trusted presence in the city that young people feel comfortable calling on when they need help.
“The long term goal is that we really hope that we can see a change in how young people actually entertain themselves in the city, particularly with some of the really young ones we come across,” said Jess.
You can hear the passion in Jess’s voice when she talks about the plans she wants to implement, like increasing the number of teams working in the city, and on-the-ground community work.
One idea is to invest in a barbecue trailer for Youth Beat. “We could do barbecues at skate parks, and go out to the local communities where these kids are actually from, and spend more time with them, and engage them,” said Jess. “We could give them support to make better choices.”
Youth Beat works closely with local police to try to keep teenagers who engage in antisocial behaviour on the streets out of trouble. Sometimes police have no choice but to take a teen into custody, but “we want to avoid that as much as we can,” said Jess.
“We love the police, and we work alongside them, and they love us as well. If we can together prevent a young person from falling on the wrong side of the law, then we have achieved a great outcome.
“People can still have fun and entertain themselves, that’s totally fine,” Jess said. “But we want them do it in a way that means they don’t bring any harm or risk to themselves or other people.”
To find out more about Youth Beat, check out the website.