23 June 2021

Ongoing funds required to keep Canberra's youth safe and connected

| Katrina Condie
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Dispute between two men in lounge room

Funds are urgently needed to continue the successful Safe and Connected Youth Program in Canberra. Photo: File.

Urgent funding is needed to ensure Canberra’s Safe and Connected Youth Program can continue beyond 30 June, 2021.

Funded by the ACT Government, the outreach program aims to provide support for children and young people under the age of 16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of, homelessness, and their parents/carers and family.

Conflict Resolution Service (CRS) family support program manager Hamish Guthrie hopes funding will be forthcoming in the August budget to give kids in the ‘middle years’ – from ages eight to 15 – and their families access to therapeutic case management support and family mediation to support de-escalation of family conflict.

Hamish says he would hate to see local families lose the early intervention service and explains that uncertainties around funding make it difficult to take on new clients.

“If the program doesn’t continue, there’s the risk that a group of young people in those middle years won’t be able to use this preventative service and will result in more kids couch surfing, living on the streets, and poor longer-term outcomes,” he says.

CRS CEO Mel Haley says a recent evaluation commissioned by the Youth Coalition of the ACT found the program has successfully reduced the risk of homelessness, while increasing employment and education outcomes for young people.

“The evaluation reported this program is the only early intervention, targeted, youth homelessness program that works with young people and their families to reduce the risk of homelessness,” she says.

Hamish says evaluation found the program met all of its key outcomes and has been an outstanding success.

“It’s a really strong evidence-based program that actually tackles the causes of potential youth homelessness,” he says.

“It’s well designed with a strong family aspect and access to intensive support networks. There aren’t any other services in Canberra that have this integrated support model.”

The evaluation report found that many of the young people involved in the Safe and Connected Youth Program were able to return home safely.

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The program also successfully increased understanding of family dynamics and improved communication in the home and, in the cases where a young person was not able to return home, the program was able to steer them away from homelessness by making alternative arrangements for them.

The program is a collaboration between the ACT Government, Youth Coalition of the ACT, Woden Community Services, Northside Community Services, Conflict Resolution Service, and Marymead.

ACT Minister for Families and Community Services Rachel Stephen-Smith recently welcomed the evaluation report and said the program “represents an innovative approach to supporting these young people”.

“The evaluation report shows this project has delivered strong outcomes for young people and their families, including reducing the risk of homelessness and improving access to services, which are more integrated and coordinated, and increasing family communication,” she said.

“The ACT Government will continue to work with our community sector partners to support children and young people, and understand how their needs may change as we continue to navigate the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While the minister’s office could not confirm this week whether money would be allocated in the upcoming budget to continue the program, Hamish is hoping long-term funding will be made available.

The ACT Government invested an initial $480,000 to fund the trial, which ran between October 2019 and June 2020, and continued funding until June 2021.

A further $1 million has been committed to building fit-for-purpose accommodation for young people under the age of 16 in Canberra.

Find out more about how Conflict Resolution Service is helping Canberra families.

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