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Youthlink – helping young people achieve their full potential

Youthlink provides a variety of services and programs to assist young people on their road to adulthood.


James Selby is the manager of Youthlink services in Blacktown, Sydney, and has worked with The Salvation Army for nine years.

Youthlink supports young people at risk for various reasons, such as homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, social isolation, mental illness and family trauma.

Formerly a builder for 20 years, James found himself at a turning point and began to use his skills for a good cause.

“I had spent years managing people, handling contracts, and while some of the work now is much the same, starting at Youthlink was a fresh start,” James says. “Youthlink is The Salvation Army’s specialist youth service for Greater Western Sydney. It’s a wide range of services, like mental health and disability services for young people, with our Skills for Life program. We work with a varied range of kids, but most of them are young people who don’t have great have social supports.”

James Selby heads up The Salvation Army Youthlink in Sydney.

Skills 4 Life is a specialist youth disability service located in Blacktown, providing client-centred quality services to young people with a disability and their families. The Skills 4 Life team offers a range of programs that combine recreation, vocational and life skills to assist young people, encouraging their independence at home and within the community.

“We provide day programs, holiday programs and after-school programs for young people with disability,” James says. “We’re offering the supports that build the life skills young people need, cooking, health, social skills, finances, job applications, whatever the needs are.”

Youthlink and selected Headspace youth mental health centres are working collaboratively to provide the Headfyrst program, an innovative and free service for young people experiencing co-existing AOD and mental health issues. Headfyrst is about providing resources, counselling, and support to help young people work through their recovery journey.

Youthlink believes that every person has potential, despite their life problems and experiences, no matter their backgrounds.

“Headfyrst is our mental health AOD program across greater western Sydney,” says James. “It’s a collaboration. We employ psychologists and partner with Headspace in six of their centres. Each program is providing counselling and support for young people experiencing AOD and mental health concerns. Mental health doesn’t discriminate in terms of your special economic circumstances.”

The Headfyrst and Headspace teams are co-operatively involved in ongoing care coordination, offering a confidential program encouraging open communication between young people and their clinicians.

“Pressure can come from all sides of situations; it’s all relative,” James explains. “It can be a child that hasn’t been seen at school for eight months. We have a program called Reconnect that connects young people with school and education and prevents homelessness. With a lot of young people, when they get out of their school routine, it’s hard to get back into it. Breaking that routine can create added anxiety. Our biggest spike in need is around anxiety and depression, during COVID and post-COVID, but now with cost of living as well.”

The Headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey has revealed that the cost of living is the single biggest concern for young Australians, with the affordability of housing and rent also significant causes for worry.

“Mental health can start to get worse when they’re approaching Year 10 or Year 12 when other students are going to university and starting to work,” James says. “With the cost of living, we’re seeing it in middle-class families as well. There’s this idea that you’re not a good parent if your child is struggling, but some of the best parents have come into my office.”

Youthlink believes that every person has potential, despite their life problems and experiences, no matter their backgrounds. Youthlink’s core work is to help disadvantaged young people achieve their full potential. Managing this work has been a fresh start that James has cherished over the last decade.

“I think every young person has potential,” James says. “To help one young person achieve that, or give them the resources they need to grow better, is a huge privilege. I couldn’t survive what some of these young people go through. I am consistently amazed by the resilience of young people and how much potential they have.”


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