Early intervention

Three case studies – in early childhood, homelessness prevention and school retention – demonstrate why solving problems ‘upstream’ is good policy and great politics.

Sue White is CEO of the Queen Elizabeth Centre.

Elle Jackson is Campaign Manager – Youth Justice at Jesuit Social Services.

Lanie Harris is Media and Communications Adviser at Council to Homeless Persons.

The experience of Hamish and his mother Eva shows how early intervention can dramatically affect maternal health and childhood development, writes Sue White.

Eleven-month-old Hamish wasn’t eating well and was underweight. He also appeared to have emerging mental health issues, which presented as separation anxiety. He would cry when his mother, Eva, left the room.

Life wasn’t easy for Eva, either. She had severe anxiety about Hamish’s condition and was struggling to understand her son’s cues for hunger, sleep or comfort. She was stressed, sleep deprived and exhausted.

Using the Family Partnership Model, the Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC) worked closely with Eva and Hamish to build their trust and confidence. QEC’s strengths-based, partnership approach focuses on coaching developmentally appropriate strategies for parents and their young kids.

Over five days, staff assisted Eva as she cared for Hamish, building her skills and confidence to begin a structured, appropriate routine that suited everybody’s needs.

The immediate benefits were quickly obvious. Hamish was more confident, more playful, slept better and even started to put on weight. Eva’s mood improved, she was considered at a reduced risk of depression and anxiety, her energy levels returned and she was relating better with her son.

After five days, Eva left QEC with a customised daily routine for Hamish. She was subsequently more comfortable accessing QEC services for help settling and feeding her son.

The work undertaken by Eva and her QEC team also helped provide Eva with the broader skills required to develop positive family relationships.

Her story underlines what an expanding body of research already tells us: the first 1000 days of a child’s life are crucial to their health, development and happiness.


Helping young people re-engage with education can change the course of their lives, writes Elle Jackson.

When Steven (not his real name), a young Aboriginal boy, engaged with Jesuit Social Services’ Navigator program in late 2016 he was experiencing significant challenges with his education.

Steven had long-standing issues with attendance, had a diagnosed learning disability and was not receiving any extra assistance in the classroom.

Navigator provides individualised casework and support to disadvantaged young people aged 12 to 17 to help them return to education or training.

Without early intervention, some of these young people may progress to having contact with the youth justice system.

The links between disengagement from education and involvement with the youth justice system are well documented. According to the 2017/18 Annual Report of the Youth Parole Board, 65 per cent of young people involved with the youth justice system had previously been suspended or expelled from school.

Steven only attended three days of school in 2017 and, although his mother tried several times to seek extra support for him in the classroom, he was never provided with an Individual Learning Plan.

He was also struggling with family conflict, low confidence and a lack of understanding around his own complex needs.

Steven’s Navigator case worker was able to gain a deep understanding of his personal challenges, build a sense of trust with him and link him in to culturally-specific services including counselling and group activities.

Steven was also supported to enroll in a flexible learning centre where his individual needs were better supported, and where he could benefit from an Individual Learning Plan.

Navigator helped Steven re-engage with education and, two years later, he attends approximately 80 per cent of his school timetable.

His confidence has grown to the point that he has applied for casual work, which his mother identifies as a major success in his life, and he is engaged with work experience through his school.

Steven’s story demonstrates the importance of long-term case management with a focus on a young person’s health and wellbeing, and the need for a culturally sensitive and respectful framework.


As Lanie Harris explains, short-term financial support keeps renters in a home.

Trent is a single dad renting in regional Victoria. Recently his 12-year-old son was experiencing mental health issues and Trent struggled to attend work. He lost his job.

As a result, he fell behind in rent payments and was at risk of being evicted. A local homelessness service used funding from the Private Rental Assistance Program to help Trent pay his rent, connect his son with mental health support and form a relationship with Trent’s real estate agent so that if rent payments were more than 14 days late again, the property manager could make direct contact.

Within two months Trent had found a new job. He continued to receive Private Rental Assistance until his first pay cheque.

Through short-term case management, sound financial planning and the ability to help out with tenants’ rental arrears, the Private Rental Assistance Program (PRAP) prevents set-backs from spilling into crises. It stops homelessness before it occurs.

This approach makes more economic sense than waiting until someone is evicted and homeless before beginning the costly exercise of assisting them.

After just three years PRAP has become the most important homelessness prevention program in Victoria.

But this crucial program is only funded until June 2019. Recurrent funding is needed to provide certainty to homelessness organisations and the people they serve.