How to make a difference – Solids!

I want to raise a concerning matter before the assembly, the imminent closure of The Solid Young Fulla’s and Sista’s Program.

I first heard about Solids from the folks at Gugan Gulwan, who spoke highly of the program and its impact on the children. I spoke with Bill Bashford last week and was taken by his passion for the program he initiated and runs, but mostly his passion for the children from his community.

Solids has been operating out of the Ngunnawal primary school supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children and youths to complete their education. The program has had a significant impact on the lives and wellbeing of young members of the indigenous community.

Solids aims to build strong leaders within the Aboriginal community in the Canberra region. It works by keeping indigenous children in schools. We know when children stay in school, they stay out of trouble.

How does Solids achieve this? By starting with the positive, students spend considerable time each week sharing their positive stories. Helping them share wins, helps them to gain confidence and respect for each other.

But there are also activities that link them back to their culture and family. Activities such as arts, sports and dance. Recently Bill tells me they had a visit from the Indigenous dance company Bangarra, who showed them how to express their stories using dance, reconnecting them to their culture.

Finally, Solids rewards children for school attendance, with rewards such as movies and going ten-pin bowling.

But it is more than a culturally appropriate rewards-based program. Working with other community leaders, the program offers mentoring and support. And significantly, it is widely supported by families, who come in and help. In return the parents then help and support each other, get jobs, and improve their lives too. It is truly a community outreach program.

Solids has had incredible success. It boasts one hundred percent school completion, and in the high nineties for school attendance. And significantly, not one child or youth who has been involved in the program, has been mixed up with the justice system. Not one! Yes the numbers are small. We are speaking here of 50 or so students, who attend the program after school each week.

You would think that a program such as this, which aims to keep the students out of the justice system, keep them off the streets, would have the support of this government. Especially when we hear about the high indigenous incarceration rates in the ACT, the high recidivism rates, and the high rates of youth detention – some of the highest in the country. But the support – as we heard from Minister Berry yesterday, is not there, nor ever has been.

Yet, Bill wants to achieve so much more. The Solids motto is “We have Survived, We now want to thrive”. Bill has run Solids for the last 6 years with one-off funding from the Federal Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

However, Bill tells me that the program will cease operations as of the end of this year because the Federal funding will run out, and despite repeated calls, emails, and yes tweets to the various local Territory Ministers, there has been no support from them.

Let me be blunt, it is time for this government to become serious about supporting these small programs that make a difference in the lives of indigenous young people. With the right funding for programs such as Solids so much could be achieved. I commend the program to the Assembly for the wonderful work they are doing.