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Growing Up Indigenous: Indigenous Youth

Indigenous youth have inherited a long and proud history of culture, courage and resilience. However, today they also experience some of the highest levels of disadvantage in the developed world. This disadvantage is directly related to the dispossession, discrimination and oppression inflicted on Indigenous Australians in the past, and manifests itself in many ways.¹

Some of the most outstanding disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth exist in the areas of education, incarceration, social and emotional wellbeing, health and exposure to risk, including domestic and sexual abuse and neglect:

  • In 2008, almost one-third of young Indigenous people (aged 16–24 years) had high or very high levels of psychological distress—more than twice the rate of young non-Indigenous Australians 
  • Indigenous youth (10-24 years old) suicide rose from 10% of total Australian suicide in 1991 to 80% in 2010.  See Indigenous Youth Suicide for more information about the suicide crisis in Indigenous communities. 
  • In 2012-13 Indigenous juvenile detention rates were around 24 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth
  • Among Indigenous young people aged 15–24 years in 2008:

        •    35% had a disability or long-term health condition

        •    39% were current daily smokers

  • In 2008, 23% of young Indigenous people aged 15–24 years had left school at Year 9 or below, compared with 4% of non-Indigenous young people.
  • In 2011-12, Indigenous children aged 0-17 were nearly 8 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the subject of substantiated child abuse or neglect (42 per 1,000 children, compared with 5 per 1,000)
  • In 2011, 19 in 100 Indigenous mothers were teenagers, compared with only 4 in 100 non-Indigenous mothers.

 

See below for more information on Indigenous youth health, education, wellbeing and incarceration.

 


Risk Factors

Indigenous young people are disproportionately exposed to a broad range of risk factors including:

  • ongoing grief and loss 
  • discrimination 
  • family issues 
  • housing and health concerns 
  • comparatively low incomes 
  • higher unemployment rates, and 
  • poorer education outcomes, mostly due to early disengagement from school (4)

Such risks have been found to impact upon the health and wellbeing of young Indigenous Australians (5).

In particular, rates of domestic and sexual abuse and neglect are significantly higher among Indigenous youth compared to other young Australians:

  • In 2011-12, Indigenous children aged 0-17 were nearly 8 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the subject of substantiated child abuse or neglect (42 per 1,000 children, compared with 5 per 1,000)
  • In NSW, QLD, SA and NT in 2012, rates of sexual assault reported to police among Indigenous children aged 0-9 were 2 - 4 times the rates among non- Indigenous children in these jurisdictions
  • In 2007-2011, more than one-quarter (26%) of all deaths among Indigenous children aged 0-17 were due to injury, and the death rate due to injury was more than twice the rate for non-Indigenous children (80 deaths per 100,000 children, compared with 34 per 100,000) (6)

 

Health

Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15–24 years in 2008:

  • 35% had a disability or long-term health condition
  • 39% were current daily smokers
  • 36% reported binge drinking in the previous fortnight
  • 19% reported problems accessing one or more health services (7)

In 2008, around one in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over drank at high risk levels (8). Excessive alcohol consumption also accounted for the greatest proportion of the burden of disease and injury for young Indigenous men (aged 15-34 years) and the second highest (after intimate partner violence) for young Indigenous women (9).

Social and Emotional Wellbeing

Indigenous youth face particular stressors including experiences of discrimination, loss of language, social dislocation and isolation, and the historical and contemporary effects of colonisation. The forced removal of children from families impacted on spiritual and cultural identity and continues to affect subsequent generations. Grief and loss are enduring experiences within Indigenous communities due to the high death rates amongst adults and suicides amongst young people (10).

  • In 2010 it was estimated that up to 40% of Indigenous youth aged 13–17 will experience some form of mental illness (11)
  • In 2008, almost one-third of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (aged 16–24 years) had high or very high levels of psychological distress—more than twice the rate of young non-Indigenous Australians (12)
  • Indigenous suicide has increased from 5% of total Australian suicide in 1991, to 50% in 2010. The most drastic increase occurred among young people 10-24 years old, where Indigenous youth suicide rose from 10% in 1991 to 80% in 2010 (13).  See Indigenous Youth Suicide for more information about the suicide crisis in Indigenous communities.  

Education

Absenteeism among Indigenous students is markedly higher than among non-Indigenous students. The main factors contributing to school non-attendance and completion rates relate to a failure to fully engage parents, carers and the community; ongoing socioeconomic disadvantage, health problems, and lack of recognition by schools of Indigenous culture and history (14).

  • In 2011, one in four Indigenous Australians (25%) had completed Year 12, compared with half (52%) of non-Indigenous Australians (15)
  • In 2008, 23% of young Indigenous people aged 15–24 years had left school at Year 9 or below, compared with 4% of non-Indigenous young people (16). The likelihood of engaging in certain health risk behaviours decreases with higher levels of schooling (17)

Incarceration

  • In 2012-13 Indigenous juvenile detention rates were around 24 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth (18)
  • In 2008, almost half of Indigenous males (48%) and 21% of females aged 15 years or over had been formally charged by police (over their life time)
  • In 2008, one in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (17%) had been arrested in the last five years. Of those young people who had been arrested: 45% had been arrested once, 23% had been arrested twice, 30% had been arrested three or more times (19)

Parenthood

The teenage birth rate for Indigenous mothers was more than 5 times that of non-Indigenous mothers in 2012 (20). Teenage births are associated with poorer educational and employment outcomes for the mother, which in turn influence outcomes for the child (21). In 2008:

  •     21% of Indigenous young people (12 - 24 years) were parents or guardians
  •     41% of young parents were single parents
  •     Young parents were less likely than non-parents to be fully engaged in work and/or study (23% compared with 62%)
  • Young females were much more likely than young males to have caring responsibilities for children (32% compared with 9%) (22)


Want to know more?

Watch the Sharing Our Story series to learn more about the shared history that has led to our current situation. 

The complete Sharing Our Story series is available here.

 


References

  1. BoysTown 2010, Kids Helpline Information Sheet: Indigenous Australian youth concerns
  2. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2014, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014, Productivity Commission, Canberra
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians June 2011
  4. BoysTown 2010, Kids Helpline Information Sheet: Indigenous Australian youth concerns
  5. Zubrick S., Silburn S., Lawrence D., Mitrou F., Dalby R., Blair E., Griffin J., Milroy H., De Maio J., Cox A., Li J. 2005, The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey: the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people, Curtin University of Technology and Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth​
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014, Indigenous Child Safety, Canberra
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A Focus on Children and Youth
  8. National Health and Medical Research Council 2009, Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra​
  9.  Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008, “The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2008”, Canberra, pg. 142
  10. Butler, C. 2012, "Indigenous Adolescent Mental Health: What Is the Role of Primary Healthcare?", PHCRIS Research RoundUp, Issue 24, Adelaide: Primary Health Care Research & Information Service​
  11. Butler, C. 2012, "Indigenous Adolescent Mental Health: What Is the Role of Primary Healthcare?", PHCRIS Research RoundUp, Issue 24, Adelaide: Primary Health Care Research & Information Service​
  12. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011, The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, an overview, Canberra​
  13. National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
  14. Purdie, N. & Buckley, S. 2010. "School Attendance and Retention of Indigenous Australian Students", Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Issues Paper No. 1​
  15. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013, Australia’s Welfare 2013: The 11th Biennial Welfare Report of the Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, pg.53 
  16. Purdie, N. & Buckley, S. 2010. "School Attendance and Retention of Indigenous Australian Students", Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Issues Paper No. 1 
  17. Feinstein, L., et al. 2006, "What are the effects of education on health?", Report on Measuring the Effects of Education and Health and Civic Engagement, Proceedings of the Copenhagen Symposium, OECD, Copenhagen
  18. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2014, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014, Productivity Commission, Canberra
  19. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A Focus on Children and Youth
  20. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2014, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014, Productivity Commission, Canberra
  21. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2014, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014, Productivity Commission, Canberra
  22. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing: A Focus on Children and Youth
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