Law Week 2017 Justice Journeys

Gaye O'Sullivan

Gaye O'Sullivan is the Manager of the Cherbourg Youth Justice Centre where every day is different.

“A typical day? Every day is different, just the way I like it,” says Gaye O’Sullivan, Manager of the Cherbourg Youth Justice centre.

Gaye is a very cheery person, with a warm smile who talks fondly of her role as a manager for the Youth Justice centre in Cherbourg.

Gaye studied psychology in Brisbane but moved back to Murgon before she finished. After a temporary administration role with the former Department of Communities and Child Protection, Gaye’s eyes were opened to her future career and inspired her to finish her degree.

Gaye’s Justice Journey is a remarkable one and her background in psychology certainly helped pave the way to a career where her focus and passion is for young people and the community.

Starting as a case worker in the early days at the Cherbourg centre, Gaye travelled extensively through regional towns to meet with her clients and supervise youths who presented offending behaviour. Gaye focused on building a trusting relationship with the young people she worked with, sitting down with them, getting to know them and hearing their stories. Her task was to work with young people through rehabilitation programs to ensure offending behaviour was not repeated. Gaye said each young person’s story is individual.

“Once people know the back story, the difficulties and challenges that those young people face, you can support them to make changes positively.”

Gaye continued to move through the ranks in a variety of roles and next saw herself in the court environment representing Youth Justice in relation to young people going through the legal system. The skills she gained as a caseworker provided a foundation to support young people in court. The calm and approachable disposition she exudes would no doubt have put her young clients at ease.

“Open communication played a huge role in learning about their lives and helped us ascertain what may have led to the offending behaviour. We would then work collaboratively with Magistrates and other key stakeholders to implement the best solutions to guide them back to positive behaviour,” she said.

Gaye’s career highlights don’t stop there and just last year she was involved in the Restorative Justice project which encourages a more holistic approach to dealing with offending behaviour by holding the young person accountable for his or her actions and facing victims and their families where appropriate. Gaye said this was a massive learning experience for her and taught her new skills. The program involves arranging a “conference”— a safe environment for everyone involved in a crime to talk about what happened and what needs to happen to put things right. It can be a confronting experience but often has a positive outcome for everyone involved. It gives victims the opportunity to talk about the harm caused by an offence and the young person an opportunity to take responsibility and begin to understand the harm their actions have caused.

Then and now

As the first manager of the centre since its standalone days as an outposted office of Hervey Bay, Gaye and her colleagues often deal with difficult situations. The young people who move through her centre have complex and difficult backgrounds. But Gaye’s extremely vibrant outlook on her job convinces you that it’s not often she faces a problem she can’t solve.

“It’s such an exciting time to be in youth justice”, she said.

Gaye puts her happiness in her role down to her amazing colleagues and a great sense of humor.

“We celebrate positive changes no matter how small they are.”

This has been a huge journey for Gaye personally. As a first time manager, she is looking after 16 staff with amazing abilities. Gaye is an advocate for the opportunities offered throughout regional Queensland.

“The job, the opportunity to work where I grew up and give back, it’s amazing. I’d like to encourage people to explore rural positions. The benefits of building relationships and getting to know everyone in the community where you work and live are priceless and the experiences are so diverse—you won’t get them anywhere else,” she said.