Australia’s youth population (12 - 25 year olds) represents about
18.5% of the total population and it is expected to drop by 2011
to 17.4% or 3,675,000 people.1
- About 85% of the young population live with their parents.
- For 15 to 19 year olds, the main activity is studying.
- For 20 to 24 year olds, the main activity is working.
- About 9% of Australian youth suffer from a disability (physical, mental, intellectual or behavioural).
- Youth suicide (strongly associated with psychological distress), especially among young males is quite high
and has increased significantly over the last three decades. 2
Australia’s youth largely enjoy the benefits of physical, emotional, mental and social stability within a
multicultural environment where diversity is seen to add value to the fabric of our society. As mentioned
elsewhere in this report, active citizenship, which recognises equality between individuals, which encourages
and allows participation by individuals in a democratic society, provides the cohesion necessary to hold
together the values of contemporary Australia. Active citizenship, where individuals are required to contribute
in some way, is essential to democracy. For the future of our nation then, it is exceptionally important that
young people are encouraged, developed and supported to actively participate within their communities, thus
providing crucial impetus to the building of our civil society.
Media portrayal of youth is not always positive, contributing to a perception that they are an alienated section
of the community. They are often designated as self-interested, enclosed in their own narrow culture, lacking
political savvy and largely disinterested in accepting responsibility. 3 In Australia, potential volunteers (young
people) are more focussed on one-off and short-term projects rather than long term projects with particular
When young people do contribute to the community, they do not always gain support for their viewpoint.
‘…young people need to be encouraged to have their own vision for the future and be equipped with the skills
and opportunities to be involved in shaping it. Until we can accept (as a national community) that young
people will and do contribute in their own ways, many of their efforts will be overlooked, underestimated or
even ignored.’ 4
Anecdotally, it would appear that young people contribute in a variety of non-traditional ways that are not
readily measurable. Statistics are not available on informal volunteering specifically involving youth.
American research shows that youth who volunteer increase their knowledge of the world and the problems
that face it. Volunteering affords both an opportunity to shape their communities and to receive lifelong
personal benefits. Furthermore, formal and informal volunteer experiences during teen years increase the
possibility of continued volunteering in adulthood. Teen volunteering provides positive experiences for youth,
benefits society, and establishes a foundation for lifelong civic duty. 5
In 1996 across America, 59% of youth aged 12 to 17 volunteered in the previous year. These 13.3 million
volunteers gave an estimated 3.5 hours per week, totalling 2.4 billion hours of volunteer time, equating to
US$7.7 billion. 6
This study also revealed that
- teens had a higher volunteer rate than average (at least 70% compared with 59%) if they believed that
social problems like poverty and hopelessness can be overcome through volunteer efforts; felt a moral duty
to help people who suffer; or believed that it is within their power to do things that improve the welfare of
- teens who reported having positive role models were nearly twice as likely to volunteer as those who
- as a result of their volunteer efforts, teens reported doing better in school or improving grades,
developing new career goals, and learning about career options.
- teens reported that they learned how to solve community problems, understood more about
good citizenship, became more aware of programs in their communities, and learned more
about how government and voluntary organisations worked.
- Other significant benefits included: learning how to respect others, learning to be helpful and
kind, understanding people who are different from themselves, finding
opportunities to develop leadership skills, becoming more patient, and
understanding the qualities of good citizenship.” 7
In Australia, youth suicide (strongly associated with psychological
distress), especially among young males, is quite high and has
increased significantly over the last three decades. 8 It is well
documented that community interconnectedness has the
potential to reduce the incidence of suicide among young
Voluntary youth service contributes to youth
empowerment and many former volunteers
emphasise the strong influence it had on their
lives. Voluntary service by youth could be a
powerful tool to achieve this empowerment, giving
young people the opportunity to actively contribute
to their wellbeing and to their community.
In Australia, young people are engaged in a variety of
voluntary activities including caring for children, older
people and people with a disability, youth camps, nursing
homes and hospitals, wildlife preservation, land care and
regeneration, conservation and environmental projects, the scouting
and guide movement, Red Cross, programs for peace, Amnesty International
and Greenpeace. Our young people are volunteers in community emergency rescue
teams and are volunteer fire fighters. They organise community fund raising activities and serve on
They come from every socio-economic background and live in mansions and caravan parks. They come from
large and small families, from urban, rural or regional Australia, and they do volunteer work mostly because
they enjoy it and want to put something back into the community. 10
The challenge for communities and organisations then, is to create meaningful ways and new domains of
action, by which young people can contribute their unique skills and gifts in volunteer effort. We must market
and publicise volunteer work that is attractive to young people; engage in flexible practices in youth
volunteering, taking advantage of 24 hour days, seven days per week activities; offer a variety of opportunities,
not burdened with paperwork, meetings and long agendas; and meet a ‘hands-on’ activity which really makes
a readily visible difference. 11
Restrictions in implementing the changes necessary to meet the challenges involve:
- the need for education and training for those who work with young volunteers
- increased leadership training opportunities for the young people themselves
- financial support to implement attractive publicity campaigns to appeal to young volunteers,
- the engagement of public support for the value of young involvement in civil society.
The important dimensions to youth voluntary service then are: the training it represents for young people, its
impact on the community or society and the social recognition for the volunteer derived from this impact.
The future health of our communities, our nation, our robust democracy, depends on the involvement of our
citizens. The greater the degree of participation, the stronger and more flourishing the democracy. As a nation,
Australia’s future is embedded within the nurture, encouragement and development of our young people. If
indeed volunteers represent the spirit and heart of a nation, then active citizenship is the lifeblood we need to
ensure a stronger social fabric.