Research and practice highlights the importance of engaging families and family networks in providing support and reducing risk. ‘Conflict within the home’ is by far the strongest risk factor in setting a young person on the path to homelessness. The Youth Focused and Family Centred strategy that is adopted as part of The Geelong Project is aimed at maximising the young person’s connection to family, extended family and friends, based on building the trust of the young person and resolving issues by working with the whole family through a range of approaches involving boundary setting, mediation, and skill development.
The Youth focused and Family Centred approach starts with the young person but rapidly and actively engages the family in the care planning and development process. Workers explore the needs and wishes of young people and assist them to put their views to their families in a responsible and articulate way. This often involves assisting parents to actively listen to their adolescent children and assisting all parties to come to a consensus about family rules, expectations and responsibilities and diminishing the need for anger, resistance and aggression between parties.
The Early Intervention (EI) Worker is pivotal in bringing these parties together and promoting a commitment to the integrated plan. The care plan is designed to meet goals that the young person and family see as important and are therefore prepared to invest in. Each achievement within the Plan is acknowledged by the EI Workers with the young person.
The EI team does this by actively engaging young people in familiar settings i.e. school, the young person’s home, cafes. This encourages young people to be open about their concerns and aspirations. Similarly workers engage parents, usually at their home, to share their wishes and ambitions regarding their adolescent and the wider family unit. By bringing parties together it is then possible for families to move beyond existing conflicts and work on changes to relationships that can be positive and enduring.
Research is showing there is a disturbing level of adolescent and family violence in the home involving a significant proportion of young people at risk of homelessness. Adolescent violence in the home, which can easily precipitate a young person being excluded from the family and which is often associated with behaviour problems at school, is a concern that is regularly addressed by The Geelong Project Early Intervention Team.
The ‘Youth Focused and Family Centred’ approach may involve assisting the young person to develop anger management techniques through individual or group counselling. This is often combined with assisting parents to develop skills in de-escalating conflict and setting effective limits through both individual and group programs. An Integrated Care Plan will commonly involve working with teachers and wellbeing coordinators to reinforce aspects of the behaviour plan within the classroom and school setting. This may also involve the EI Workers to act in the role of the Key Worker for the young person and collaborate and integrate care plans with other service providers i.e. mental health practitioners, CALD support agencies, GLBTI youth workers, disability service providers, Centrelink Social Workers or other relevant support workers.