Riley was born in Echuca, Victoria in 1954 and grew up on a dairy farm in the district. In 1973 he graduated from a school run by the Salesians. He was inspired by the movie Boys Town and went on to train as a teacher. He has worked as a teacher, youth worker, probation officer, residential care worker and principal of the charity Boy’s Town. In 1982 he was ordained a priest at Oakleigh, Victoria.
Riley is the founder and CEO of Youth Off The Streets and has worked with disadvantaged youth for more than 35 years in a variety of roles including teacher, youth worker, probation officer, residential carer and principal. He officially founded Youth Off The Streets in 1991.
As CEO of Youth Off The Streets, Riley oversees the operation of over 25 programs which employ over 180 staff and involve more than 250 volunteers. He has implemented innovative behaviour modification strategies to help young people deal with a history of trauma, abuse and neglect. Many of these strategies have been adopted by schools across Australia and by government agencies. Riley believes there is no such thing as a “child born bad”, but acknowledges that there are bad environments, circumstances and families that impact negatively on our young. “We must have the courage to demand greatness from our youth.”
QualificationsDiploma of Teaching, 1975
Secondary Teachers Certificate of Registration No. 37378, 1975
Primary Teachers Registration Board, 1976
Bachelor of Theology, Melbourne College of Divinity, Clayton, Victoria, 1982
Bachelor of Arts (major Sociology and English) Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, 1984
Diploma of Abuse and Trauma Counselling, Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors, Queensland, 1996
Diploma of Psychology, Applied School of Psychology, Sydney, 1997
Diploma of Aboriginal Studies, TAFE NSW OTEN, 2010
Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs, TAFE NSW OTEN, 2010
Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of Western Sydney. “This award is in recognition of your outstanding humanitarian service to the community, especially youth,” 2010
Masters of Special Education, University of Southern Queensland, 2010
Riley founded Youth Off The Streets (YOTS) in 1991 with a food van delivering meals to homeless youth in the Kings Cross area in Sydney. Since then the organisation has grown to offer more than 35 services, including aboriginal programs, crisis accommodation, alcohol and other drug services, counselling, accredited high schools, outreach, residential programs and a mentoring program. The organisation is non-denominational and works for young people who are homeless, drug dependent and recovering from abuse.
Riley is CEO of the organisation, sharing the belief that no child is born bad, and that by having someone believe in them and through the right support, young people can overcome the immense personal traumas that they face.
Youth Off The Streets opened a centre for youth in Macquarie Fields, named after longtime supporters Elizabeth and David Koch. The Centre creates a safe and engaging environment based on trust and respect and supports young people by providing opportunities to encourage and facilitate life choices. Located at 86 Parliament Rd Macquarie Fields, the Centre and the activities it offers young people aim to set an Australian benchmark for excellence in the provision of youth and community services.
Youth Off The Streets Overseas Relief Fund has provided support in East Timor, Indonesia and Tanzania. Riley has worked with the Islamic organisation Muhammadiyah and helped build an orphanage in Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami.
Riley makes frequent media appearances on behalf of YOTS, including a weekly radio segment broadcast on 2UE in Sydney and 2CC in Canberra.
In the decade from 2000 to 2009, Youth Off The Streets received $3.5 million in donations from the Australian gambling industry, particularly poker machines.
Riley lobbied against the taxation of gambling, stating that "the Government won't fund services like mine and are now also attacking the revenues that we previously did have available." With respect to his position on the effect of gambling on society, in 2003 he stated in a radio interview, "I acknowledge that the great problem facing the community is people who are addicted to gambling and I call for the clubs to put in place systems and supports to help people fight this addiction."
In December 2011 it was revealed that Riley had lent his name in support of a campaign by Clubs Australia against proposed mandatory pre-commitment limits for poker machines. Riley expressed his concern saying that a better way to tackle problem gambling was treatment and counselling, not legislation.
In 2006, Riley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to disadvantaged youth through the establishment of Youth Off The Streets and the development of a range of assistance and mentoring initiatives for adolescents and to the welfare of children overseas through humanitarian assistance efforts. In 2006, he also received the Human Rights Medal from the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (shared with broadcaster Phillip Adams).
On 20 April 2010, Riley was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Western Sydney in recognition of his work.
In 2012, Riley was nominated as NSW Australian of the Year for his work with disadvantaged youth.