Intervening early to prevent youth homelessness: Lessons from the Geelong Project

Intervening early to prevent youth homelessness: Lessons from the Geelong Project

David MacKenzie and Sandy Meessen
30 October 2019

This webinar discussed youth homelessness and what needs to be done to address the problem, with a particular focus on early intervention.

Young Hipster Woman Portrait at City

Please post your comments and questions below.

This webinar was held on Wednesday 30 October 2019.

A full recording of the webinar and related resources, including slides, audio and a transcript, will be published soon. Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive a notification when these resources are available.

Youth homelessness is a concerning social issue associated with a range of poor outcomes for young people, including early school leaving. In Australia, the number of young people who seek help from homelessness services is higher now than a decade ago, despite early intervention programs operating in some places. Overall, the homelessness service system for young people remains largely crisis-oriented, rather than preventative.

This webinar explored what the research tells us about youth homelessness in Australia and what can be done to help prevent it. It focused specifically on the Geelong Project, an innovative place-based approach to early intervention that involves:

  • population screening for young people at risk of homelessness or early school leaving
  • a youth-focused and family-centred approach to support at-risk young people
  • a practice framework that brings together youth and family workers with school wellbeing staff to respond to young people’s needs.

The webinar discussed how this approach has been applied in Geelong, Victoria, and considered the emerging evidence on its outcomes for young people. It is of interest to youth and social workers, wellbeing and student support staff in schools, service/program managers, and policy makers who have responsibility for youth and education programs.

Related resources

About the presenters

David MacKenzie

David is an Associate Professor at the University of South Australia with a strong record of research and development on youth issues and youth policy, and is widely recognised for his work on youth homelessness and disadvantage. In 2007/08, he was one of the four commissioners responsible for the influential National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Homelessness. David is the founder and current Chair of Youth Development Australia, a charitable non-government organisation that operates as a platform for change responsible for the current National Youth Commission into Youth Employment and Transition and the National Youth Homelessness Conference in March 2019. David is also the founding Director of Upstream Australia, a consortium that provides systemic backbone support for the development of the community of schools and services (COSS) model of early intervention across Australia. 

Sandy Meessen

Sandy is the Team Leader of the Geelong Project at Barwon Child Youth and Family. Sandy’s role oversees the early intervention team and the day-to-day work of delivering early intervention through the COSS model lens. The COSS model is based on deep collaboration with key stakeholders and the use of data to inform practice, thereby ensuring evidence-based outcomes. Sandy has a Bachelor of Criminology from Deakin University. She has worked in the community sector for 11 years in several on-the-ground and leadership roles in child protection, out-of-home care and youth services. Sandy has a passion for working with young people and believes that the key to preventing homelessness and disengagement of education is working not only with the young person, but also their family. 


Questions and comments

Thank you David and Sandy - inspiring!
Robyn Dolheguy
What age is the Australian Index of Adolescent Development survey conducted with students for the early identification?
The survey and the screening methodology has been tested on 12-18 year-olds or secondary school aged young people. It could be done in Grade 6 but later in the year as part of transition from primary to secondary school but it would not be appropriate to use with younger primary age children.
David and Sandy
What age is this survey aimed at? Just Secondary?
Secondary students from abut 12-19 years of age.
David and Sandy
Is the Australian Index of Adolescent Development a survey available to all schools? or is this survey created by the project? Is it Victorian schools only?
The survey and the methodology is available to those agencies and schools participating in the ‘community of schools and services’ model of early intervention or COSS Model. The survey is not used in isolation but in the context of the COSS Model so that contributes the significant achievable outcomes. As the Model is adopted on a wider basis the survey and other materials will be freely available to the participating schools and communities.
David and Sandy
Is there some sort of training for family & youth workers on how to use the Australian Index of Adolescent Survey?
Yes – there is training and preparation on the use of the AIAD as part of a whole of school population screening process. Careful preparation for the population screening process is important. There is the AIAD but also school-identified students at-risk and then a short engagement interview during which an experienced youth and family worker makes and final assessment as to whether the data from the AIAD or the advice coming from the schools makes sense. From this point, the worker and school wellbeing staff consider what should be the response for each case – Tier 1 or 2 or 3.
David and Sandy
What was the process for accessing student survey participants through Department of Education? How supportive was DoE of running the survey? How many individual schools did it run in and with what grad/age range? What post-survey support (if any) was offered for student participants? Any further discussion appreciated!!
Upstream Australia, a consortium of the University of South Australia and Youth Development Australia Ltd, is the data custodian for the community collectives implementing the COSS Model. Upstream Australia manages and handles data according to strict human research ethics guidelines and approval of the COSS Model by the University ethics processes is accepted by the DoEs. The participation of schools is voluntary and their recruitment into The Geelong project is part of the community development process that creates the conditions for interventions that accomplish the achievable outcomes. In Geelong, when we did the initial trial without additional funding, three schools were involved. The Victorian Government provided $2.8m to expend to seven schools in Geelong and ultimately, The Geelong project reaches for the whole of the Geelong community – thereby implementing a rigorous exemplar of ‘collective impact’. The use of the AIAD survey is for 12-19 year olds. There are youth and community workers as well as school wellbeing staff available to respond to any issues that might arise during the screening process.
David and Sandy
How does the Geelong Project respond to Aboriginal youth at risk of homelessness?
The AIAD does provide for the identification of Aboriginal young people although in general schools should be aware of these students. An Indigenous or Aboriginal students can be regarded as a member of a vulnerable group and checked to see if additional support is warranted. Not all Aboriginal students are at-risk and in directing additional support to Aboriginal students who may need it, care should be exercised to provide culturally-appropriate support in a way that does not create a stigmatised identity.
David and Sandy
For the Tier 3 clients mentioned in the presentation, were there enough accommodation services for people, such as horizon house that accept people that are typically disengaged, experiencing homelessness?
The Geelong Project cohort are all students for whom risk has been identified prior to crises and therefore in the vast majority of cases finding independent housing is not generally an issue. Of course if a young person becomes homeless and cannot return to live with family members then housing is an issue. There is an issue of insufficient youth-appropriate and youth-specific housing in many communities.
David and Sandy
On the Tier slide, what does MGP stand for?
TGP stands for ‘The Geelong Project’ and MGP referred to the Mt Gambier Project which was a one-year trial of the COSS Model in Mt Gambier in 2017-2018.
David and Sandy
Where can we get a copy of information or resources that would help a community set of a program like this?
You need to contact Upstream Australia (; David MacKenzie on 04121048730) become an Initiative Group and become part of the reform movement!
David and Sandy
What was the project population, number of students involved in? How is the project funded? What 5% are in child protection system?
In 2019 the Geelong Project is funded to work in seven schools. When the AIAD was administered earlier this year, 3784 secondary students completed the survey. In terms of risk of homelessness, there were 3.5% of the students identified.
David and Sandy
Based on the models you have spoken about, what numbers of workers have been used in these models based on area population? You also seemed not be limited by a timeframe working with clients - is this correct?
Based on the risk profile in Geelong, and the mix of Tier 1, 2 and 3 cases, the youth and family workforce required would be about 1.4 workers per school on average, plus a part-time team leader and a Project Coordinator, probably fulltime or at least 0.5.
David and Sandy
This sound very similar to a program that is available on the Mornington Peninsula. Could this be where the program came from? Or where did the program come from? Very informative, and happy to hear that you are intervening early. Thank you
I don’t know of the program in the Mornington Peninsula, that Pieta refers to. The COSS Model was conceived from research and then co-developed in Geelong over a number of years. In terms of the conceptual architecture and practical success, it is as far as we know, a world-first.
David and Sandy

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