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Young people

Adolescence and young adulthood are critical stages for emotional, social and physical growth and development, including brain development. It is a time when young people can be particularly vulnerable and require the right support to ensure that they are able to reach their potential.

Experiences of violence, trauma or neglect undermine young people’s development. Even without such negative experiences, adolescence can be a difficult time of transition and change. Flexible, integrated services support services play an important role in ensuring all young people maximise their capacity to participate in education, training and/or employment.

Yet many communities in Victoria, particularly in rural and regional areas and on the urban metropolitan fringe, have no early support services for young people, or generalist youth services. Where services are available, they are often not local, making it difficult for young people to get to them.

While most young Victorians do well, many face challenges as they move from childhood to adulthood, including homelessness, mental health issues, family violence, abuse and neglect, drug and alcohol issues and involvement in the criminal justice system. One in five young people do not have anyone in their lives to turn to for help and support. Without appropriate and timely support, these challenges can and do have lifelong consequences — poorer health and wellbeing, lower education outcomes and poorer employment prospects, which are not only damaging for the individual but also costly for the wider community. Providing support for young people can be likened to ‘scaffolding’ — support that is available to young people as they develop their own capacities. The level of scaffolding needed changes through the course of a young person’s life — through early childhood, the middle years (8 to 12 years†), adolescence and early adulthood — and can be built from a number of supports including families, community networks and schools. This report looks at the role that community sector and government organisations play in reinforcing this scaffolding and considers how supports can be further strengthened to promote better outcomes for all young Victorians.

Background

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) conducted this research to:
  • identify current gaps in youth support services in Victoria
  • assess the impact of those gaps on young people’s
  • health and wellbeing
  • identify relevant government policies and
  • program initiatives
  • identify solutions or actions to address youth support service needs
  • recommend policy changes to improve young people’s health and wellbeing.
To explore these issues from the perspective of organisations that provide services to young people, a survey of 213 community, school and government service providers was undertaken in March 2012. This research was also undertaken at a time of significant government and sector reform in Victoria, including:
  • the implementation of the Community Sector Reform Project which will consider how the Victorian Government and the service sector work together to improve the lives of vulnerable Victorians
  • the development of a whole of government vulnerable children’s framework
  • the establishment of the Commission for Children and Young People
  • the piloting of a new holistic case management model, Services Connect within the Department of
  • Human Services
  • the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s (DEECD) review of its approach to vulnerable children and young people
  • the ongoing development and evaluation of the DEECD Youth Partnerships model
  • the implementation of DEECD’s Towards Victoria as a Learning Community framework
  • the development of a Compact between schools and DEECD
  • significant changes to the funding and delivery of Vocational Education and Training (VET)
  • the development of the whole of government Victorian Alcohol and Drug Strategy
  • the reform of the Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support Services Programreforms outlined as part of the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan
  • the Economic Study on Service Delivery Reform and Disadvantage
  • the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from 1 July 2013 in Barwon, Victoria.

Findings

The survey of 213 service providers across all local government areas of Victoria highlighted a number of critical issues that need to be addressed to strengthen supports for young people.
  • The identification of critical gaps in:
    • specialist services, particularly in housing, flexible education options, and support for young people with disabilities and mental health issues
    • policies and services for the ‘middle years’, children aged 8 to 12 years, which means they often go unsupported at this critical time, including the transition from primary to secondary school
    • the availability of generalist youth support services
    • public transport options, particularly in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas
    • service availability including:
      • after–hours and weekend support for young people
      • services in population growth areas
      • program delivery and staff recruitment in rural and regional Victoria
    • ongoing funding challenges including:
      • funding models that exclude young people by imposing age and eligibility criteria
      • short term funding that undermines the sustainability of programs and increases staff turnover which limits relationship development between young people and workers
      • prescriptive funding criteria that does not allow for a holistic service response to the diverse range and complexity of issues young people may experience
      • the need for stronger partnerships between all the services that support young people — youth services, schools, specialist adult support services and family services — and the need for these partnerships to be appropriately resourced and coordinated
      • the need for stronger and more coordinated needs identification and strategic service planning at the local, regional and state levels
      • the lack of a coordinated approach to evaluation and outcomes measurement.
Findings indicate that five key elements are critical to building a strong service system for children and young people:
  1. Support across the life course: adolescence is starting earlier and finishing later. This shift demands a rethink about how we respond to children, young people and young adults.
  2. Early intervention at every age and stage: a diverse mix of services can provide support to young people at every age and at every stage of an issue, from prevention and early invention to more specialist supports through to crisis support and beyond.
  3. Services working collaboratively: youth services must remain at the heart of the service system for young people, but an integrated response also requires the expertise of other services such as family support, adult support services and schools.
  4. Accessible and inclusive services: support needs to be accessible, available when and where young people need it and inclusive of a diverse range of young people.
  5. Supporting improved outcomes: services and supports need to be built on sound evidence and respond to identified need within communities.

Recommendations

In this report, YACVic and VCOSS primarily recommend strategies that address systemic policy, funding and practice issues. It is only by addressing the systemic issues more holistically that longer term changes can be implemented and service gaps filled at the local level. In planning the service system at a local level, it is clear that there are a number of supports that all young people should have access to including:
  • safe and affordable housing options from crisis accommodation though to private rental
  • health services including primary health services, mental health services and drug and alcohol services
  • education services at primary, secondary and
  • further education levels, including access to flexible education models
  • generalist youth services that can link young people to specialist supports as required
  • transport services
  • recreation options — both structured and unstructured
  • mentors, particularly where young people may have limited or no access to family and other support networks
  • disability support services
  • culturally appropriate and competent support services.
The types of services needed within a community and the manner in which they are delivered will vary across the state. The implementation of effective planning structures at the local, regional and state levels will help to ensure that policy, programs and funding respond to identified need. VCOSS and YACVic recommend that a number of overarching system reforms are required to strengthen supports for children and young people:

1. Develop a life course approach to policy and program development

Policy and funding frameworks, at all levels of government, should promote seamless transitions across the ‘life course’ — from the early years to middle years through to adolescence and beyond.
Recommendations 1.That the Victorian Government incorporate a ‘life course’ approach — from birth to adulthood — into policy development beginning with the development of the Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families Framework. 2. That Victorian local governments incorporate a ‘life course’ approach to policy development to better integrate and coordinate policy and programs between the child, family and youth portfolios. 3. That the Victorian Government develops a policy framework for the ‘middle years’ — 8 to 12 years — which incorporates new program development and specific funding for services to support children in the middle years. 4. That the Victorian Government resources a partnership between the early years, family services, youth and academic sectors to address workforce skills and development in relation to the middle years. 5. That the Victorian Government extend the Best Start program statewide and expand the scope of Best Start to 12 years to better respond to the health and wellbeing needs of children in the middle years. 6. That the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development increase the assessment of health and wellbeing of children and young people through primary and secondary school based on research about the critical ages to undertake assessment. 7.That the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development develop transition planning for children moving between primary and secondary schools.

2. Develop more effective local, regional and state service planning, development and governance arrangements

YACVic and VCOSS propose a stronger governance structure to support more coordinated policy development and service planning at local, regional and statewide levels with the aim of enhancing outcomes for young people and children in the middle years. The proposed structure includes:
  • Regional Youth Outcomes Taskforces that include the most senior regional departmental staff from relevant departments as well as senior decision makers from Victoria Police and the community sector. The Taskforce would be responsible for strategically planning youth service delivery across the DHS and DEECD region, and would be required to demonstrate significant gains in life outcomes for young people, defined in key performance indicators, linked to the Victorian Children and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS)
  • Local youth outcomes collaboration groups that are responsible for developing local partnerships and processes to ensure that services are working together to address issues. The Group would include the local community agencies that deliver services to young people, local government, local education providers, including schools, and local policechildren and Youth Services Coordination Board — the name and scope of the current statewide Children’s Services Coordination Board should be amended to a Children and Youth Services Coordination Board to address systemic issues for children and young people 0 to 25.
Recommendations 8. That the Victorian Government creates a new governance framework to assist evidence based and coordinated service planning, development and delivery for children and young people across Victoria. This framework would include a Regional Youth Outcomes Taskforce and Local Youth Outcomes Collaboration Groups. 9. That the Victorian Government change the name and extend the scope of the Children’s Services Coordination Board to the Children and Youth Services Coordination Board.

3. Strengthen early intervention support through effective education and community sector organisation partnerships

Victoria needs a school system that responds to the evidence that children and young people learn at different rates, in different ways and at different times — particularly when they have to deal with difficult issues in their lives. More work is needed to develop learning environments, both in mainstream schools and alternative settings, in which young people can access quality prevention and early intervention support, and where young people needing additional support are identified early and supported in a timely way.
Recommendations 10. That the Victorian Government commit to collaborative models that will engage vulnerable young people in learning taking into consideration the system reform initiatives identified from the Youth Partnerships demonstration sites. 11. That the role of partnership brokers between schools and community sector organisations, incorporating the strengths of the School Focussed Youth Service program, be retained in future models of support for vulnerable young people developed by DEECD. 12. That the Victorian Government trial a ‘youth workers in schools’ model where youth workers from local services are funded to participate in multidisciplinary student wellbeing teams within school settings. 13. That the Victorian Government work with community sector organisations and schools to develop and resource more flexible models of education across Victoria.

4. Align funding models with policy frameworks

While policy and service delivery is shifting towards a more holistic and coordinated ‘people centred approach’,1 funding remains in silos which could undermine policy reform. Funding models need to evolve to align with the policy vision.
Recommendation 14. That the Victorian Government develops more flexible and transparent funding models that support coordinated youth centred models. This should include the establishment of a shared pool of funding across government departments that can be utilised for more holistic service delivery approaches.

5. Build the capacity of the workforce that supports young people

Anyone who works with young people — whether in schools, government agencies or community sector organisations — needs to have the skills to ensure that any young person they support receives a service response that is appropriate, is based on the Code of Ethical Practice and is inclusive of young people’s diverse backgrounds, issues and needs. There is also a need to increase the availability of generalist youth support services which play a pivotal early intervention and prevention role in promoting the wellbeing of young people and improving coordination between service providers. Specialist adult support services, such as drug and alcohol, mental health, and housing services also need additional resources to be more family sensitive — that is, inclusive of the children and young people in the family when working with the adult.
Recommendations 15. That the Victorian Government develop a workforce strategy that ensures all workers with young people, including DHS Services Connect case management staff, are familiar with the Victorian Code of Ethical Practice and that all organisations that support children, young people and their families undertake cultural competence and disability competence training. 16. That the Victorian Government, in partnership with local government, invest resources to create more generalist youth support services across Victoria. 17. That the Victorian Government fund specialist adult services to develop family-sensitive practices as recommended by the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

6. Develop tools to better measure outcomes for children and young people

Government and community sector organisations share the concern that the system currently focuses more on inputs and outputs than outcomes. There is also agreement that outcomes are difficult to measure, particularly over the longer term. Community sector organisations, in partnership with government, must work together to inform the development of a range of measurement tools that can capture the complexity of working with children and young people.
Recommendations 17. That the Victorian Government, in partnership with the community sector, local government and schools, develop measurement tools to monitor the health, development and wellbeing of young people and children in the middle years building on the Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS).
 
Currently, one of the most significant gaps in youth support services is in the availability of psycho-social counselling services and early intervention to secondary level mental health support services. Generalist youth services play an important role in reducing the onset of serious mental illness by providing timely support for young people who may be experiencing the early stages of mental health issues. VCOSS and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) worked collaboratively to produce a report on this issue, published in October 2006 and titled Who’s carrying the can? Youth Services Report. The report makes several recommendations on how these gaps may be addressed and calls for the development of a comprehensive youth services system for Victoria. An updated and revised edition of the report is currently being produced and will be released in the future. For enquiries or further information contact Paula Grogan - paula.grogan@vcoss.org.au.