Friday, December 3, 2021

New program to prevent homelessness among youth, disinterest in schools

Young people at risk of homelessness or disengagement from high school are being supported as part of a new program underway in Western Sydney.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward said the Universal Screening and Supports program identifies students in need of additional help.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and this evidence-based initiative shows how families, schools and the community can work together to make a real difference to the lives of young people,” Mr Ward said.

“Experiencing homelessness as a young person can often lead to chronic long-term homelessness in adulthood. By intervening early we can help break the cycle of disadvantage to keep young people at home and in school.”

A trial of the program at Chifley College Dunheved Campus is being delivered by Barnardos, and will be followed by a progressive rollout at three other Chifley College campuses in Western Sydney.

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Students are screened using the Australian Index of Adolescent Development survey, which covers their living situation, family structure, cultural background, as well as physical and mental health.

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said schools play a vital role in supporting disadvantaged young people, and this program helps identify issues early so that students can focus on their education and reach their full potential.

“If a student is identified as being at risk, they are contacted by staff and asked to attend a follow up screening where they receive tailored support,” Ms Mitchell said.

“That typically includes case management, counselling, family support, education and training programs and mentoring, as well as specialist support for mental health and drug and alcohol services.”

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The initiative is based on the Community of Schools and Services (COSS) model, which is underpinned by a diverse and robust body of research.

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An evaluation of the program in Geelong, Victoria found students who received support were more likely to remain at home and stay engaged in education.

Barnardos CEO Deirdre Cheers said caseworkers would work intensively with young people at-risk of homelessness or disengagement.

“Our organisation has decades of experience working with vulnerable children and families and we are excited to be involved in this project which we hope will deliver great outcomes for young people in Western Sydney,” Ms Cheers said.

The NSW Government is investing $4.7 million to deliver the Universal Screening and Supports program in Western Sydney and Albury under its Homelessness Strategy.

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