Father Chris Riley

Father Chris Riley’s dream of helping young people experiencing disadvantage began with a single food van delivering meals to homeless youth in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Today, Youth Off The Streets provides a range of wraparound supports for young people. These include crisis accommodation and housing services, independent high schools, alcohol and other drugs counselling, youth justice support, life skills and employment programs, cultural support and community engagement, among other services.

Building a dream

Father Chris Riley AM has been committed to supporting young people since his teens. Prior to establishing Youth Off The Streets, he worked as a teacher, youth worker, probation officer, residential carer and school principal.

Father Riley has always believed that there is no such thing as a “child born bad”, but instead there are harmful environments, circumstances and families that can negatively impact a young person.

His vision was to empower young people experiencing disadvantage by providing strengths-based strategies and positive options to help them build a better future for themselves.

Leading a charity

From modest beginnings, Father Riley spent decades growing Youth Off The Streets into a leading non-denominational youth services organisation.

After supporting the operations of the St Vinnies for Youth crisis refuge in Marrickville in the early 1990s, Father Riley expanded his work by establishing a youth residential program called Better Homes Farm in 1994, under the management of the newly incorporated organisation Youth Off The Streets.

In 1996, Father Riley opened Key College in Redfern, the first Youth Off The Streets high school for young people who had become disconnected from mainstream education.

Father Riley went on to expand educational services within Youth Off The Streets to include six accredited independent high schools across Greater Sydney, the Illawarra region and the NSW Central Coast.

He also developed and implemented innovative strategies to help young people deal with trauma, abuse and neglect. Many of these strategies have been adopted by schools and government agencies across Australia.

Youth Off The Streets now offers a wide range of services and programs that support young people and families, enabled and delivered by more than 200 staff and a community of over 330 dedicated volunteers.

Awards and honours

In 2006, Father Riley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to disadvantaged young people. The same year, he received the Human Rights Medal from the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

In 2010, Father Riley was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Western Sydney in recognition of his work. He was named NSW Australian of the Year in 2012.

Changing roles and retirement

In 2020, after almost thirty years at the helm, Father Riley stepped down as CEO and transitioned into the role of Founder and Executive Director. In December 2022, he retired from the Board due to ongoing health issues. Father Riley said: “The baton must now be passed to the next generation of leaders, who I know will carry Youth Off The Streets into the future with energy, ideas and expertise.”

While no longer involved in operational or governance matters, Father Riley remains a committed advocate for supporting and empowering young people in need to reach their full potential.

"Blame is the ultimate guilt trip, one that paralyses understanding, compassion and love."