The ACT Raise the Age Coalition is a group of community sector services, peaks and legal and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that came together to push for raising the age of criminal responsibility in the ACT. The Coalition was convinced by the existing evidence and from their experience that young people who are at risk of offending at a young age often experience multiple health and mental health challenges, often with significant underlying trauma and disability. Criminalising young people often exacerbates these issues.

Meeting regularly the group was able to develop shared arguments for why the ACT should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. They also developed key ideas for how this reform provides an opportunity to avoid criminalising young children with complex needs and entrenching them in the youth justice system at an early age. They also worked together to consider more effective responses to meeting children and young people’s needs in the community.

This is an excellent example of how collaboration becomes the driving force behind a community movement or initiative for change – such as the reform for raising the age. The Coalition worked constructively with the government to shape alternative responses and also advocated for service system changes to better meet the needs of young people and their families across the ACT.

The reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility provides an opportunity for the community and legal sectors to work together to address the crisis levels of overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within the justice system. The ACT Raise the Age Coalition has demonstrated that different perspectives and skills are required to influence and tackle complex problems.