Father Chris Riley with his dogs. He is devastated that two schools may now not be possible in severely disadvantaged areas. Picture: Brett Costello
Father Chris Riley with his dogs. He is devastated that two schools may now not be possible in severely disadvantaged areas. Picture: Brett Costello

Youth Off The Streets founder hit with $630k bill

CHARITY legend Father Chris Riley has had his funding slashed by the federal government and has been ordered to repay $630,000, putting the education of homeless and disadvantaged children at risk.

The founder of charity Youth Off The Streets said he was distressed after the Federal Education Department told him a new formula would see his funding halved from $17,000 per student to $8000 - equivalent to a cut of $1.3 million a year.

In an email sent to him on September 27, Father Chris was asked to repay $630,000 in funds his organisation has already received throughout the year that already been spent on educating and housing vulnerable teenagers.

He was told this funding will be deducted from future payments to the charity.

 

Portrait of Father Chris Riley who is the founder and CEO of the charity Youth Off The Streets at Merrylands, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello
Portrait of Father Chris Riley who is the founder and CEO of the charity Youth Off The Streets at Merrylands, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello

"It's diabolical to be honest. The government doesn't care less about our kids," he told The Daily Telegraph.

"At the end of the day, I'm just fed-up with people cutting funding willy-nilly on kids who don't have a voice and have a lot of disabilities.

"We weren't notified the model was changing and we certainly can't continue the level of schools we have at the moment (under the new model). This was without any discussion and without any warning."

Youth Off The Streets works with vulnerable teenagers and helps educate them in years 9 to 12, and gives them housing.

 

Homeless and disadvantaged kids will be put at risk with the funding being halved.
Homeless and disadvantaged kids will be put at risk with the funding being halved.

 

It has six schools across NSW, from Redfern to Merrylands, and was planning to open two more next year, in the Hunter and in Logan in Queensland.

This is now in jeopardy.

"If the funding isn't adjusted, we won't be able to open the schools in the Hunter Valley and Logan," Father Chris said.

"These are two of the most disadvantaged areas in the country."

The Youth Off The Streets founder estimates there are 900 special needs schools across Australia that could be in a similar situation to his schools and may have a funding cut.

Father Chris said his funding was cut from $17,000 per student to just $8000. This was a tiny amount compared with private schools, which charge fees of up to $30,000 a year per student, he said.

The email from the Education Department states: "As discussed, three of your schools will not be receiving an October payment in 2018. Below I have outlined the overpayments and the recovery plan that we are proposing."

Over the past fortnight, Father Chris has been trying to secure a meeting with Education Minister Dan Tehan or the Prime Minister's office to discuss his urgent situation.

 

Father Chris Riley has been trying to secure a meeting with PM Scott Morrison and Minister for Education Dan Tehan. Picture: Kym Smith
Father Chris Riley has been trying to secure a meeting with PM Scott Morrison and Minister for Education Dan Tehan. Picture: Kym Smith

 

Only yesterday did Mr Tehan's office contact him to arrange a meeting for today.

"The present government has not responded openly or honestly to our invitation to a meeting," the youth worker said.

"If they don't have meetings, there's nothing that's going to stop me from protesting. We are selling these kids out."

Mr Tehan said last night: "My preference is always to deal with these issues face-to-face not through the media."

He said the disabled student funding system (NCCD) has been in development since 2008 and collected data in a consistent, reliable and systematic way.

"The number of students with disability that will attract Commonwealth funding through the new loading is estimated to more than double in 2018 compared to 2017," he said.

Youth Off The Streets educates up to 250 teenagers a year. It has helped 100,000 young people since Father Chris founded it 45 years ago.



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