New school offers vital alternative to custody

New school offers vital alternative to custody

Monday, 28 June 2021

A new school in Melbourne is providing and inclusive therapeutic option for children at risk of imprisonment.

'We're aimed at kids who have been made to feel school wasn't for them. Many children at risk of custody have histories of school exclusion, expulsion and long periods of disengagement. Sometimes, I will talk to their mainstream school or previous school and it sounds like they’re describing a completely different child,’ said Imogen Cowan, Head of Engagement at the Ignatius Learning Centre (ILC).

ILC is a registered school, run by Jesuit Social Services. It's available for boys aged 15–17 who are involved in the youth justice system, with a focus on those at risk of detention.

‘We know that time spent in custody, away from positive relationships and education, harms children and puts them at greater risk of reoffending,’ said Amanda Carter, Youth Crime Program Manager at Victoria Legal Aid.

‘We need to divert young people away from the justice system wherever possible, especially from custody and initiatives like this one assist in this goal', she said.

The ILC provides young people with education and community support. The school aims to help its students build a more hopeful outlook and a sense of belonging to help them reach their potential. The school fosters life-long learning by providing a holistic education, enabling students to heal, learn and experience success in a safe and supportive learning environment.

'Our students have spoken really positively about how they have purpose, enjoy being busy, enjoy discovering new things and talents they didn’t know they had,’ said Imogen.

‘Like how they used to hate music and now they make beats, or have a new found aptitude for numeracy. They’re digging into their cultural heritage. School is about the development of the whole child – physical, social, emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual development. The purpose of school is to provide a nurturing environment in which a child can flourish and learn.'

A pathway to re-engagement and greater agency in decision making

'There is a clear link between exclusion from school and contact with the youth justice system,’ said Amanda.

‘Many young people in contact with the justice system have not had positive experiences in mainstream school environments, and face barriers to their engagement with education.

‘Re-engaging young people with school, with the trauma informed therapeutic and culturally safe supports they need to succeed, helps kids get out and stay out of the criminal justice system,’ she said.

'At ILC we have students with long histories of disengagement from school, for many of whom last year's remote learning and complex home lives, further highlighted the disengagement they were already starting to feel. It turned the pressure up,' said Imogen.

As part of the enrolment process, young people are introduced to the school, teachers, and other students. They are active participants in the enrolment process, to which their consent is a critical and valued part.

'Young people have a right to be active participants in decisions about their future,’ Imogen said. 'The main thing we've found is that if kids come out here and see the place, and their families are engaged throughout the process, by doing that and affording them agency and autonomy, it’s so much more effective than just saying they have to come,' she said.

How to refer

Boys aged 15–17 can be referred to join the Ignatius Learning Centre if:

  • they are residing in the metro area and able to attend the Ignatius Learning Centre in Richmond
  • they are disengaged or at risk of disengaging from education
  • they are involved with the youth justice system.

Evidence-based programs are crucial for improving outcomes for young people. They provide young people with a future outside of the justice system and avoid the harmful impact that incarceration has on young people’s lives.

'Support for young people to address underlying issues goes a long way to prevent reoffending. Programs like the Ignatius Learning Centre can help young people fulfil their potential and lead happy and full lives,' said Amanda.

More information

If you would like more information about the Ignatius Learning Centre, contact Imogen Cowan, Head of Engagement at

Read the Ignatius Learning Centre pamphlet (pdf, 450.03 KB) about the staff and their approach.

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