There is no doubt that Australia is a world leader in school-based youth homelessness prevention. They have a long history of doing this work through the Reconnect program, which is funded by the central government and delivered through schools throughout the country. More recently, the Geelong project has advanced this work by developing an early intervention strategy that works upstream. Below is a brief summary of the program models.
The Reconnect Program
The “Reconnect Program” has been in operation in Australia since 1999. Though a government sponsored initiative, the early intervention program is delivered through community-based services. The goal of Reconnect is to work with young people when they are identified as ‘at risk’ of homelessness and help them stabilize their living situation, and “improve their level of engagement with family, work, education and training in their local community” (Australian Government, 2013: Reconnect). The program is a classic example of a systems level approach to early intervention, in that it is widely available across the country, and works across institutional jurisdictions to provide young people who become – or are at risk of becoming – homeless with the supports they need to stay at home, or find alternative supportive living arrangements in their community. There are over 100 Reconnect programs, and some specialize in supporting sub-populations such as Aboriginal youth, refugees and new immigrants, and lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.
The Reconnect Program targets young people aged 12-18 (and their families) who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness. Reconnect’s service delivery model includes:
“a focus on responding quickly when a young person or family is referred; a ‘toolbox’ of approaches that include counselling, mediation and practical support; and collaboration with other service providers. As well as providing assistance to individual young people and their families, Reconnect services also provide group programs, undertake community development projects and work with other agencies to increase the broader service system’s capacity to intervene early in youth homelessness.”
The Reconnect program, which has been extensively evaluated, emphasizes accessibility, a client-centered orientation, and a holistic approach to service delivery. In a comprehensive evaluation of the program positive and sustainable outcomes for young people and their families were identified, including improvements in:
- the stability of young people’s living situations
- young people’s reported ability to manage family conflict, and this improvement was sustained over time
- parents’ capacity to manage conflict
- communication within families
- young people’s attitudes towards school
- young people’s engagement with education and employment
- young people’s engagement with community
TGP: The Geelong Project
The Geelong Project (TGP) is a groundbreaking and evidence-based partnership that helps young people at risk of homelessness and their families. TGP, which was established over 5 years ago, utilizes a ‘community of schools and youth services’ model of early intervention for young people who are at-risk of disengaging from school, becoming homeless and entering the justice system.
“The strength in this model of ‘community of schools and youth services’ is that it engages and integrates the work of all of the key people and providers that together can make the difference in helping to re-engage the young person with school, family and community.”
Led by Time for Youth with Barwon Youth, Swinburne University and Geelong Local Learning & Employment Network (LLEN), TGP represents a unique partnership between schools and agencies committed to confronting and resolving long-standing issues of school disengagement, homelessness and offending in the Geelong community.
The project has been extensively evaluated, with a focus on measuring individual outcomes, such as specific (positive) changes in the attitudes, behaviours, knowledge and skills, relationships and functioning (at home and school), that lead to staying in school and the family home.
Active monitoring by school staff, or a secondary consultation where a referral is made to another program or agency.
Casework support, either brief counseling or case management by TGP
‘Wrap-around’ case management for complex cases requiring the formal involvement of several agencies.
TGP is innovative in the way it integrates and delivers early intervention services through system and service delivery development and reform. It begins with the Student Needs Survey (SNS), an evidence-based assessment tool that looks at both risks and assets. It is completed by every student and the results are combined with knowledge obtained about students from other sources, including teachers and counselors. Those deemed to be at risk are given a brief screening interview that is designed to check whether or not information about risk is valid and current. It also becomes an opportunity to engage the student and introduce them to the TGP project.
Those deemed to be at risk of homelessness, dropping out or criminal involvement are then referred for case management support, which may include family mediation and reconnection. The TGP uses a flexible service delivery model based on a three-tier response, with Tier One offering the least extensive case management and intervention, and Tier Three the most.
This tiered approach is tied to the needs of individual students and is underpinned by a youth-focused, family-centered approach. It is not crisis-focused, but rather is intended to support young people and families over a longer period of time. Based on evolving needs, young people can ‘step up – step down’ from one level of support to another, and this is done in a seamless way.
As such, this tiered approach is considered the
“foundation for effective and multi-disciplinary service responses to the range of needs in the at-risk population. … This model supports young people, their families, their schools and communities to address issues that left unresolved lead to youth homelessness and disengagement from education.”