Youth services are generally designed to pick up a young person in a crisis, stabilise them and then move them on as quickly as possible. These services often struggle to provide systematic, integrated service, education, employment and/or community-based responses.
The Victorian Department of Human Services recognises some of the limitations inbuilt within the current suite of services on offer. Explicit in their report Human Services: The Case for Change is a call for a move away from solely providing ‘a traditional welfare approach that focuses on crisis support and stabilisation, and may cause dependency’ and ‘a focus on solving problems after they occur rather than anticipating and intervening to prevent them arising’.19
The DHS report acknowledges that greater attention needs to be paid to moving young people out of disadvantage by building on their strengths and capabilities. Currently, too many services for young people start with what a young person is not, focusing on negative behaviour (offending, drug or alcohol misuse) or labelling them as a problem (e.g., care leaver, teenage parent).
The limitations of government-provided or funded services are often also mirrored in community sector services. Colin Falconer from the Foyer Federation argues that:
… even the charities set up to help those locked out of the mainstream often add to the problem: they battle against homelessness, they fight any number of deficit-based identities of young people – and by doing so, they keep the bar set low, fixing problems instead of solving social circumstances. 20
He notes that ‘at present, the transition to adulthood has become something of an elite sport, more dependent on someone’s social asset base than their individual potential’.21
Clearly, how we view and value young people in the wider society influences the way we work with them, which in turn influences their ability to access opportunities and resources. For example, if we believe all young people have talents that can be developed – and we use language that embeds this and implement structures that encourage their talents – we could reasonably expect this will lead to service offerings that assist them to reach their potential. If we consider engagement in education, employment and independent housing as critical achievements for transitioning young people, then service offers designed to realise these outcomes are crucial. Changes to public perceptions about young people will follow.
Conversely, if we define young people as at risk, provide crisis management and report on crisis interventions, this provides wider society with a very different view of them.
How we view and value young people in the wider society influences the way we work with them, which in turn influences their ability to access opportunities and resources.
Positive change is needed in the whole approach to working with young people, including a transformation of the language we use and the objectives that services seek to implement. Evidence from the UK and elsewhere has made a compelling case for the development of new forms of positive intervention, to equip more young people with the capabilities required for them to contribute to, and benefit from, the wider society.22
Young people themselves want a different type of ‘investment’ to match their future goals. To enable this we need to replace the current ‘safety net’ approach with a new ‘progression ladder’ of services that build and nurture talent. Talent is our ability to be and to do.
To nurture young people’s talents we need to develop their skills, through access to resources and opportunities. This in turn, will assist young people to establish a good enough sense of self, motivating them to achieve their goals.
Although there are programs in both the education and homelessness sectors that seek to support young people with their education or accommodation, there are currently no fully integrated service models where young people either experiencing or at risk of homelessness are provided with a coherent education, work and service offer that focuses on their skills and talents.
Significant reforms of the Victorian human services system are currently underway as the limitations of the current service system, as outlined above, are well recognised across the sector. In addition to the development of the Case for Change vision, the [then] responsible State Minister (the Hon. Mary Wooldridge, Minister for Mental Health, Women’s Affairs and Community Services) initiated a service sector reform project that is reviewing the way in which the entire funded human service system operates. The review, Towards a More Effective and Sustainable Community Services System,23 considers how the funded service systems can better work to deliver a person-centered approach across a range of services and programs, and especially how they can work to encourage service users to build their capabilities. The DHS is also undertaking the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan: System Reform Project, which is reviewing funded homelessness programs in Victoria with a view to developing a response in keeping with the reforms outlined.24
Youth Foyers are explicitly referenced by DHS as an innovative service delivery option that is grounded in an early intervention and prevention model.25
Foyers strive to reduce homelessness among young people, and increase the number of young people completing educational qualifications and moving into stable employment. Foyers around the world have demonstrated positive outcomes in terms of improved educational attainment, increased employment opportunities and better housing outcomes for young people experiencing homelessness.
While we reference two such evaluations26 that attest to these outcomes, it is important to note that the planned evaluation of the Education First Youth Foyer Model will spearhead the kind of robust appraisal that is needed to demonstrate the viability of this distinctive Model. Importantly, it will determine the cost effectiveness of this Model in comparison with routine or standard forms of service delivery to this population, enabling an assessment of value for money.
Education First Youth Foyers represent a new Model for Victoria (the key features of which are explained in-depth under ‘A distinctive Model’), one that aims to provide a holistic experience for young people so that they can access the opportunities needed to thrive and become independent.
In the current service system for young people who experience social exclusion or marginalisation, greater emphasis is given to crisis responses rather than prevention or early intervention.
Artwork title: Bungil
Artist: Aunty Janice Bakes (Elder, Indigenous Education Centre)
Bungil is the protector of the land and the creator