Liam Makes a Difference In The Lives of Young People
Caring, honesty, respect, responsibility and safety. It doesn’t take long to recognise how deeply entrenched these values are in the life and work of Liam, one of the Y’s Youth Workers on the Central Coast. The father of two credits the influence of others during his youth for leading him to his role of helping to establish one of the Y’s newest programs for young people.
“I had a single mum who worked a lot. I was very fortunate to have a good youth service when I was growing up – it was always a rock for me,” said Liam. “I was 18 when my son was born and jumped around jobs for a bit – the music industry and then bartending. Then about five years ago, I got a job at Sydney Trains as a diesel maintenance worker. It gave me stability and more money but I was still drawn to community work.”
“On my days off, I volunteered at The Glen Centre and eventually decided to study for a Certificate III in Community Services. I started volunteering for Streetgym during my study so I knew about the Y’s work. When the Alternative Suspension program job came up, I jumped at it!”
Liam joined the team in late 2022 ahead of the launch of the Y’s Alternative Suspension program. Adapted from the Canadian program of the same name, Alternative Suspension helps students who have been or are at risk of being suspended from school to build resilience, self-confidence and persevere in their education. Schools refer young people to the program for three to six days and spend time doing schoolwork and self-development. The team also helps to connect the young people with other services and keeps parents informed.
“The Alternative Suspension program has been running in Quebec for about 20 years. I came on board when we were finalising the elements of the program resources and discussing as a team what we were going to do here,” said Liam.
“I strongly believe young people don’t go out of their way to be suspended for no reason. School isn’t for everyone, and if they’re acting up there’s usually a reason,” Liam said.
“Our program isn’t a punishment, it’s an opportunity to help the young person focus on their schoolwork and recognise strengths that might not be recognised in school. We work with young people and their parents every day. And at the end of each day, we send a ‘highlight reel text’ to parents. So often parents only hear negative things about their child so we make sure we share the positives too,” he said.
Liam describes his feelings about his role as ‘a mishmash’ because he believes in the program strongly but also knows the results of any pilot program need to speak for themself. Early results are promising.
“We worked with a young person with a talent for picking fights and getting in trouble but he was also amazingly sensitive. We helped him to recognise that his loyalty to mates and other leadership qualities were strengths,” Liam said.
“Another young person had real issues socialising and put himself down. When we attended the school reintegration meeting, his mum said he wished she could put him with us full-time because he hadn’t been fighting with his sister that week.”
“And just last week, the words of another younger person who finished with us really hit me. He said he’d learned to love himself a bit more: ‘I’ve never felt anything towards myself, but I’m starting to see the nice things I do for others. I cherish this time.’ I thought ‘wow’ - that’s big,” he said.
As a ‘white-skinned Indigenous man’ from the LGBTIQA+ community, Liam says it’s important for people to have freedom to identify themselves in a way that they feel comfortable and that acceptance and understanding are key to helping everyone – especially young people – find their way in life.
“This plays into the current Reconciliation Week Theme: how do we move forward? Mum was adopted out in the 70s. I’m a proud Murri man but there’s a cultural disconnect and I’m working with LinkUp to find my mob in Queensland,” said Liam.
“It’s been a constant battle for me because my skin is white and people don’t think I’m Aboriginal. I grew up in the Blue Mountains ─ it’s a very white place. I liked volunteering at The Glen because I felt like ‘one of the boys’ – they made me feel welcome, it was their reconciliation plan and learning about culture and connection there meant a lot.”
“Reconciliation week is about teaching people about our culture and country to foster further understanding of a first nations perceptive.. We have a big focus in the program on creating a safe space for everyone. We talk to the young people about it because there’s still a lot of discrimination flowing into our young people.”
You can hear Liam’s inner child laugh about learning to sew an Ishaan Kurosaki costume for a trip to ComicCon with his 10-year-old stepdaughter and 8-year-old son last weekend. And just as unmistakable is his genuine passion for the work he hopes will change the lives of others.
“So often, young people have experienced so many adult problems. There are young people whose parents aren’t in the picture or have died - they haven’t had someone to read to them or support them. I want young people to feel that they’re loved and worthwhile. That yes, they might make some poor decisions but they’re not tarred with that one brush forever,” Liam said.
“I’m ‘happy-sad’ when we have young people move on and live a more independent life. To me it’s incredible and a testament to the work of the Y team who put young people at the heart of all we do. I want to be the person I would have felt safe with when I was a child – for my kids and all the young people.”
“I feel super privileged to be in the position I am. The YAC team welcomed me with open arms and I absolutely love what I do, I don’t think I would look back.”