Trial of specialised assistance to help ex-offenders move from welfare to work

Around 150 people in the Hume region of Victoria who have interacted with the criminal justice system will be offered tailored mentoring, clinical and educational services to help them address undiagnosed learning difficulties and find work, as part of the Australian Government’s Finding Strengths trial.

Participants in the project will be either on parole, completing community work orders, and/or have problematic drug use and will be offered assistance and tools to address the learning difficulties that may be affecting their lives.

CEO of The Centre for Continuing Education, Felicity Williams, said that recent research identified clear links between education completed by prisoners and reduction of time spent on welfare in the future.

“This project seeks to assist ex-offenders who have not participated in prison education, and/or have dropped out of school early due to undiagnosed learning difficulties with a view to increasing their chances of finding a job. There does appear to be a high incidence of undiagnosed learning difficulties, such as ADHD or dyslexia, among the prison population, and the evidence from this project will assist our understanding of how to assist the broader offender population to have better life outcomes.”

As part of the trial, each participant will take part in a tailored therapy and educational program which includes strengths-based language, literacy and numeracy education and provides participants with a better understanding of how to communicate with employers.”

“Finding Strengths prepares people for productive workforce participation as they return to the community and aims to decrease their chances of re-entering the justice system,” Ms Williams added.

The Australian Government has committed $1.45 million to the Finding Strengths trial to be delivered in Wodonga, Wangaratta, Seymour and Shepparton.

The Centre for Continuing Education in Wangaratta, established in 1962 by the Victorian Department of Education, will deliver Finding Strengths under the Australian Government’s $96.1 million Try, Test and Learn Fund.

Ms Williams also said “Being out of work, or unable to get work, is tough. It leads to stress, low self-esteem and reduced options.

“For some people, such as people on parole and community corrections orders, this is even harder to overcome. These people often have so much to give a potential employer but struggle to get a break. Finding Strengths offers a first step on the path to employability through job-ready education and support. This is a positive solutions-based program. Learner engagement officers in combination with a speech pathologist and psychologist will work with participants to identify and understand their previously undiagnosed learning disorders and provide learning guidance and specialised support.

“Finding Strengths offers job-ready education programs that provide a way forward for participants through supportive community mentors and industry liaison officers to build community and employment networks that will enable participants to become valued and supported community members”, Ms Williams said.