School children packed the SCU auditorium at last years Step to the Future program.
School children packed the SCU auditorium at last years Step to the Future program.

Backward step over Govt cuts

A NORTHERN Rivers girl, who was sexually abused by a person known to her family, has condemned the Federal Government’s decision to cease funding to a youth program, Step to the Future (Step) that helped her deal with her trauma.

Funding ceased when the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations expressed concerns about the effectiveness and efficiency of the forums.

Its report stated the forums were not self-sustainable, lacked measurable long-term outcomes and did not result in systemic or sustainable improvements to enterprise education.

Emily (not her real name) told The Northern Star she had contemplated suicide at just 14 years of age after her nightmare, and only began dealing with her horrible experiences, following the 2008 Step forum.

Speaker at that forum, Nina Funnell, told of her own attempted rape during which she was threatened with murder, and how she had grown from that terrifying ordeal.

Her story ‘reached’ Emily who became deeply distressed, with Ms Funnell going to her aid. In fact, Ms Funnell spoke to several students that day on similar issues.

Emily said the talk ‘triggered visions of my experiences, and my friends became concerned for me’.

“She and I spoke for most of the afternoon and we’re now in constant contact; she’s my role model, guiding me on ways to use the experience to grow from,” the brave young girl said.

“Step is very important for young people who fall prey to any form of abuse; it teaches you how to speak out. Nobody has the right to have power over another individual and it was helpful to have that personal interaction.

“In 2008, I was an absolute mess but, because of the advice that I was given, I’ve been able to move forward. None of us knows what lies ahead, but we do know what we’ve experienced, and can see how we’ve grown from that.

“Step is awesome; when I think what I’ve become since last year then I know it has helped me grow.”

One of Emily’s teachers said because the student was ‘at risk’, Emily had legal grounds to leave home, adding that Emily was not the only young person to benefit from Step.

“Emily’s now living with her father, but in another case, a student ‘connected’ and spoke with former Children’s Court magistrate, Barbara Holborow, who recommended that he leave the area, which he’s done and is much happier now,” she said.

“Federal funding should be reinstated to Step so that people like Emily can deal with their personal issues. It was said that young people can get the same benefit from the internet but the internet can’t provide that emotional connection.”

Step’s national forum convenor, Diane Allen, said Emily was ‘one of hundreds across Australia in this position’.

“And there are those others who won’t reveal anything about their horrors,” she said, “and Step can evoke that.”

“We have a duty of care to our young people who are able to use Step’s speakers as the vehicles to take them to better places in their lives.

“Since the annual funding stopped, we have lost many regional areas where kids hurt as they watch their family members endure depression brought on by the effects of drought and other factors.”

Last year, a modified Step visited Kadina, Lismore, and Richmond River high schools, where two presenters spoke on the fragility of life, and growing from negativities.

The name of the student was changed to protect her privacy.



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