14 April 2021
“When working with young people there is always hope for a better outcome”
Growing up in difficult environments without a role model or under complex family situations can lead young people to make decisions that sometimes result in arrest. It is there, in a police station, that you would never expect to find a community volunteer. However, when a young person is arrested and interviewed by police, they can count on the support of an Independent Person to help them through their brush with the law.
After a career in law, with a broad understanding of the justice and court systems, Kerry Mentha was looking for a volunteer role that gave her direct involvement with the community.
“I believe that giving your time to people by offering your physical presence is the greatest gift you can offer, and the great thing about this is that it is a gift that most people have the capacity to share”, claims Kerry, who has been volunteering since October 2018.
The Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP) supports young people in police interviews across Victoria. Volunteers are trained as Independent Persons (IPs) to support young people aged 10 to 18 in police interviews when a parent or guardian is not available.
“Young people can feel emotions that they don’t yet have the language to describe and it is easy for them to feel overwhelmed. They are just frightened, hungry, tired, uncertain and captive,” says Kerry.
YRIPP volunteers help some of Victoria’s most vulnerable young people, including Aboriginal and newly-arrived refugee and migrant young people, to navigate their interactions with police and link them to community support services towards preventing re-offending in future. As Kerry states, “the volunteer nature of the role is to be there for them. If they have a request or questions for the police that they don’t feel comfortable asking, I will ask for them. If they need additional support, I can arrange for that phone call, food, drink, toilet break or rest they need.”
When Kerry talks about her role as YRIPP volunteer and what she values the most about it, she highlights that there is always hope for a better outcome working with young people. “Their energy, potential for change and inherent vulnerability bring out a strong urge in me to stand beside them and support them.
“Being a YRIPP volunteer is the single most satisfying thing I do in my life, and possibly the best thing I will ever do outside my family, to contribute to my community.”
Although Kerry has a background in law and broader experience, she encourages anyone who wants to help. “I don’t believe it is requisite. A lot of people from many different backgrounds would bring a different but still essential skillset to being a YRIPP volunteer,” affirms Kerry.