A comprehensive approach to supporting young people

An update from our CEO Chelsea Tobin, who is on a Churchill Fellowship. To stay up to date with her learnings, sign up to an occasional newsletter.

During my recent visit to New York City, I had the privilege of meeting with the Mayor and approximately 14 Commissioners and Associate Commissioners involved in children and young people’s services. I shared information about Safe Steps’ work and highlighted the gap across the state for support for children and youth who are affected by intimate partner, family, or domestic violence. In response, the NYC officials outlined their comprehensive approach to addressing the unique needs of young people affected by violence.  

While some of these elements may be present in parts of Australia (and some are obvious), the NYC model offers a more uniform and comprehensive approach that could inform improvements in our local services. Their evidence-based innovations warrant consideration for potential adaptation and implementation in Victoria and across Australia.

These programs lean into the overlapping sectors of violence, child protection and homelessness and offer choices for youth, multiple entry points and a suite of comprehensive programs to divert, provide safety and meet individual needs. Some of these include:

  • If a young person is fleeing violence , it’s critical that there is an immediate response available. If preventative services are tied to a child protection response, it’s too late. Therefore, we need 24/7 availability with multiple access points (walk-in centres, mobile teams, helplines); quick response times, with mobile crisis teams aiming to respond within one hour; and the use of technology and social media to engage youth. A great example of this is Safe Horizon’s Rapid Response team, which I’ll share more on soon.
  • A temporary placement option, rather than a child going into foster care or a group home, where the young person is supported by a comprehensive team of professionals including a mental a health team. For example, this could be a 21 day respite program to work on whatever the issues are – with a certified foster parent. This provides a cooling off period and to work out a plan; not in ‘the system’ but an intervention to keep them connected to family and education, while still getting support.
  • In addition to in-person options to access support, providing support via text or online. For example, Teenspace is a free mental health support program available to any teenager aged 13 to 17 living in New York City. When a young person has mental health challenges or just wants somebody to talk to about everyday ups and downs, they can sign up for Teenspace to be connected to a licensed therapist for ongoing support. They also get access to online mental health exercises to complete at their own pace and can have one live video session per month with unlimited messaging therapy.
  • A parent chat option, so they can get support and advice or activate an intervention, if they have concerns.
  • Online resources should be promoted where young people are gathering – e.g. Tik Tok or gamification via a quiz – e.g. ‘check on your relationship’, which then offers lots of self-help and a chat function.
  • Undertake a comprehensive, evidence-based initial assessment when someone comes in for support – and provide regular follow-up.
  • Provide wrap-around services, such as access to a ‘coach’ – someone they can talk to or a mentor. This individual can connect them to services, go along with them to important meetings, help to build up protective factors such as life skills like budgeting, how to get a job etc. The coach can work with 12-15 young people and is a paid job.
  • For younger people, from around 11 onward – provide academic support – e.g. a tutor as remaining engaged in education is critical.
  • For those about to age out of the system, provide a ‘health navigator’ – someone to facilitate access to physical health, dental, nutrition advice etc – and building the life skills needed to live independently. That could be broadened out to be a general navigator, so they aren’t missing out on available supports and programs.
  • Engage the young people – especially older youth – in shaping their personal plan – and involve them in shaping the programs and services more broadly. Ask them about the type of support they need – violence; maltreatment, therapeutic service behind it.
  • Programs and support should be tailored to the situation of the person – e.g. it’s different if they’ve been sexually exploited; developmentally disabled, LGBTQIA+, expecting or parenting, or homeless etc.
  • Related to this is ensuring that those supporting young people are culturally competent and able to serve a diverse population. Ongoing training is needed for crisis responders, focusing on de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed care.
  • Use their language and provide “credible messengers” – someone their age, who looks like them and has been through something similar.
  • Young people are starting intimate partner relationships earlier and need support to know what a healthy relationship looks like. Some options include a program in schools to help youth exposed to or at risk of intimate partner violence.
  • Offer a family assessment program a preventative approach that connects families with social workers to repair the family dynamic, such as a mediation services. An example is Safe Way Forward – a family systems intervention for intimate partner violence. Working with the whole family at once, separately and simultaneously; partner and children work with a case planner and clinic, and separately others work with those who cause the harm, providing support to address concrete needs, as well as clinical therapeutic intervention.
  • Home Care Services also works with families in the community, with children up to 18. Para-professionals – homemakers – go into their homes to work with families on creating routines, especially if an intimate partner situation, to support the caregiver. They also support children by being available for typically up to four hours a day, so someone the children can confide in. All paraprofessionals are trained in adult and youth mental health first aid.
  • Build relationships across our communities – e.g. with religious organisations, ethnic and cultural groups, sporting groups – so that pathways to support are known and trusted.

These all offer invaluable food for thought as we consider how we can better support young people affected by family violence in Victoria.

I am grateful to the Commissioners and their teams and look forward to sharing more discussions from NYC soon.