Building the scaffolding: strengthening support for young people in Victoria

Australia Victoria

While most young Victorians do well, many face challenges as they move from childhood to adulthood, including homelessness, mental health issues, family violence, abuse and neglect, drug and alcohol issues and involvement in the criminal justice system. One in five young people do not have anyone in their lives to turn to for help and support.

Without appropriate and timely support, these challenges can and do have lifelong consequences — poorer health and wellbeing, lower education outcomes and poorer employment prospects, which are not only damaging for the individual but also costly for the wider community.

Providing support for young people can be likened to ‘scaffolding’ — support that is available to young people as they develop their own capacities. The level of scaffolding needed changes through the course of a young person’s life — through early childhood, the middle years (8 to 12 years†), adolescence and early adulthood — and can be built from a number of supports including families, community networks and schools.

This report looks at the role that community sector and government organisations play in reinforcing this scaffolding and considers how supports can be further strengthened to promote better outcomes for all young Victorians.


The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) conducted this research to:

  • identify current gaps in youth support services in Victoria
  • assess the impact of those gaps on young people’s
  • health and wellbeing
  • identify relevant government policies and
  • program initiatives
  • identify solutions or actions to address youth support service needs
  • recommend policy changes to improve young people’s health and wellbeing.

To explore these issues from the perspective of organisations that provide services to young people, a survey of 213 community, school and government service providers was undertaken in March 2012.

This research was also undertaken at a time of significant government and sector reform in Victoria, including:

  • the implementation of the Community Sector Reform Project which will consider how the Victorian Government and the service sector work together to improve the lives of vulnerable Victorians
  • the development of a whole of government vulnerable children’s framework
  • the establishment of the Commission for Children and Young People
  • the piloting of a new holistic case management model, Services Connect within the Department of
  • Human Services
  • the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s (DEECD) review of its approach to vulnerable children and young people
  • the ongoing development and evaluation of the DEECD Youth Partnerships model
  • the implementation of DEECD’s Towards Victoria as a Learning Community framework
  • the development of a Compact between schools and DEECD
  • significant changes to the funding and delivery of Vocational Education and Training (VET)
  • the development of the whole of government Victorian Alcohol and Drug Strategy
  • the reform of the Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support Services Programreforms outlined as part of the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan
  • the Economic Study on Service Delivery Reform and Disadvantage
  • the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from 1 July 2013 in Barwon, Victoria.


The survey of 213 service providers across all local government areas of Victoria highlighted a number of critical issues that need to be addressed to strengthen supports for young people.

  • The identification of critical gaps in:
    • specialist services, particularly in housing, flexible education options, and support for young people with disabilities and mental health issues
    • policies and services for the ‘middle years’, children aged 8 to 12 years, which means they often go unsupported at this critical time, including the transition from primary to secondary school
    • the availability of generalist youth support services
    • public transport options, particularly in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas
    • service availability including:
      • after–hours and weekend support for young people
      • services in population growth areas
      • program delivery and staff recruitment in rural and regional Victoria
    • ongoing funding challenges including:
      • funding models that exclude young people by imposing age and eligibility criteria
      • short term funding that undermines the sustainability of programs and increases staff turnover which limits relationship development between young people and workers
      • prescriptive funding criteria that does not allow for a holistic service response to the diverse range and complexity of issues young people may experience
      • the need for stronger partnerships between all the services that support young people — youth services, schools, specialist adult support services and family services — and the need for these partnerships to be appropriately resourced and coordinated
      • the need for stronger and more coordinated needs identification and strategic service planning at the local, regional and state levels
      • the lack of a coordinated approach to evaluation and outcomes measurement.

Findings indicate that five key elements are critical to building a strong service system for children and young people:

  1. Support across the life course: adolescence is starting earlier and finishing later. This shift demands a rethink about how we respond to children, young people and young adults.
  2. Early intervention at every age and stage: a diverse mix of services can provide support to young people at every age and at every stage of an issue, from prevention and early invention to more specialist supports through to crisis support and beyond.
  3. Services working collaboratively: youth services must remain at the heart of the service system for young people, but an integrated response also requires the expertise of other services such as family support, adult support services and schools.
  4. Accessible and inclusive services: support needs to be accessible, available when and where young people need it and inclusive of a diverse range of young people.
  5. Supporting improved outcomes: services and supports need to be built on sound evidence and respond to identified need within communities.
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