Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices

Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices

Stewart Muir, Jade Purtell and Lou Limoges
24 July 2019

This webinar discussed young people’s experiences leaving care in Victoria and provided two examples of promising practices in New South Wales.

Young attractive millennial generation woman standing on the Pyrmont Bridge in Darling Harbour looking over with a bright smile. Darling Harbour. Downtown Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Audio transcript: Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices

Audio transcript (edited)

MS KIRKWOOD: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to today's webinar, young people's experience of leaving care and their support needs, recent research and promising practices. I am Deb Kirkwood, a senior research officer with the CFCA Information Exchange. I'd like to start today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we're meeting. In Melbourne, the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and to their elders from other communities who may be participating today.

Today's webinar will discuss share insights into young people's experiences of leaving care, based on recent findings from the Beyond 18: longitudinal study in Victoria, as well as to examples of promising practices from Uniting in New South Wales. We encourage you to send you questions through the chat box during the webinar, for the presenters to answer during our Q&A session at the end of today's presentation. Those questions we can't get to, will be answered in the online forum. Please let us know if you don't want your question published on the online forum, following the presentation. As always, our webinars are recorded. The slides are available in the handout section of GoToWebinar. The audio, slides, transcript and recording of the webinar will be available on our website in the coming week.

Now to our presenters. Stuart Muir is a senior research fellow at AIFS. Stuart has undertaken research on out of home care, services for victims of family and domestic violence, behaviour change and the role of evidence informed practice in service provision and policy making. Jade Purtell was a senior research officer at AIFS, working on Beyond 18, for which she co-authored the wave two and wave three research reports. Jade is currently working at the Brotherhood of St Laurence as service development coordinator, out of home and leaving care. And finally, Lou Limoges will be joining us from Uniting in New South Wales. Lou has worked at Uniting for ten years, and currently works as a practice lead, covering a portfolio of programs related to youth, homelessness, leaving or aftercare. Lou has wealth of experience through her work in the community services sector, for both government and non-government organisations for over 20 years, across education, disability and welfare services. I will now hand over to Stuart Muir. Please give him a warm virtual welcome.

DR MUIR: Okay. Thank you very much. So in our part of the webinar today, Jade and I are going to talk a little bit about the Beyond 18 study, and how the young people in that study fared when they left care. And Jade is going to share a little bit of what our study participants told us about their relationships and their needs for support. So just very briefly, the Beyond 18 study was commissioned by the Victorian Government, the Department of Human Services, back in I think 2012 originally, and it was intended to help better understand some of the key factors of young people's experiences when they transitioned from out of home care.

We had a few different data sources that we used, but in particular, the main parts of the study were an online survey of young people who'd experienced care in Victoria and follow-up interviews with those young people. We've also written three reports that outline some of the results of these studies, and those are all available on the AIFS website. So a survey of young people is probably the centrepiece of this study. It involved three waves of an online survey, in the sense that it followed a group of young people, who at the time they entered the study, were reaching the age when they were ready to transition from out of home care or had just recently transitioned from care, and we surveyed them about three times over the three years. In that survey, we asked them a bunch of different things about their experiences of transition planning, their relationships with workers, relationships with other people, service use, and a lot things about their lives in general, like accommodation, education, employment and health and welfare.

We also then explored a lot of these topics in a bit more depth in some interviews with a select group of young people. We interviewed about 30 people with each wave of the survey, so it end up being between 80 and 90 interviews at the end. Just a quick note too on the young people who took part in the study. There was about 200 in wave one. By wave three, we had about 126, that included some people who'd entered the study a bit later. The main thing that I wanted to note is that it's not entirely representative of all young people who left care in Victoria. In particular, we had a bit of an over representation of young people who'd been in residential care, and under representation of people who'd been in kinship care.

On the one hand, this meant we were able to explore the transitions and the transition experiences of a group of young people who are often considered to be particularly vulnerable, but it also meant that the study population we had, possibly had more complex or more challenging life circumstances than the total care population of Victoria as a whole, because there is some evidence to suggest that kinship care – young people who've been in kinship care can have slightly better outcomes on average than other young people.

So before Jade talks a little bit more about what young people told us about the importance of their social and professional relationships and what they needed in terms of support, I wanted to run really quickly through some of what the study told us about how they were doing, basically as they were leaving care and after they left care. One of the things we found when we were talking to young people about their experiences of leaving care, is that we found that a lot of them had pretty patchy knowledge of the services and supports that were available to them or potentially available to them, and also pretty patchy knowledge of the transition process as a whole.

So only one in three, I think, knew whether they had a transition plan or not, and many of them didn't really know what was going to happen as they left or reported that they hadn't really known what was going to happen as they left. We also found that a lot of the young people in the study were leaving care with some indicators of pretty significant emotional or peer relationship issues, and they also had pretty low levels of education compared to other young people their age. So for instance, only one in four had completed Year 12, and one in four hadn't completed Year 10, even though they'd already left school. After they left care, so in the first 12 months or so, after they left State care, we found that they had some pretty complex housing patterns. So people moved a lot, they moved between different houses or different types of accommodation, and between different sort of accommodation types; so between private rentals, transitional housing and the like.

People move for a lot of reasons. We ask people why they moved house, and they could be a range of reasons which were not, you know – I suppose sometimes were fairly benign, you know, just moving to a different place because they wanted to, but a lot of the mobility was indicative of housing instability and financial instability, and when we asked people about their moves, they often told us it was because they basically couldn't afford to live where they were, there'd been breakdowns in relationships with friends or carers or housemates, or because their housing was very short-term. So they're either on a short-term lease or they were in sort of short-term transitional housing.

As I noted before, care leavers tended to have pretty low levels of educational attainment in comparison to other young people their age. We did find that a lot of people were actually trying to improve their educational attainment; a lot of people were going to TAFE in particular, and making those kind of efforts to further their education, but on the other hand, we also found that they very low levels of income. Less than half the study was earning any money from employment, and of those who were earning money from employment, I think about two thirds of those were in part-time employment, and a lot of them had experienced some form of financial distress, such as going without meals.

We also found an association between their housing type and their participation in education or employment. So young people who were studying or working, are the most likely to be living with former carers or living with partners. And in contrast, young people who weren't working or studying, were the most likely to be living in transitional housing. That was kind of an indicator of their low levels of income, but it was also indicative of the fact that some of them had come from residential care or that they had low levels of support from either family or former carers.

Just moving on to some of their other outcomes. Over the whole time, we found that a lot of the people in the study had indicators of psychological distress, so we used a number of different measures to look at how people's psychological state, such as strengths and difficulties questionnaire or the Kessler 6 measure. We found quite high levels of psychological distress and high rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation, and thoughts of suicide. And these indicators were pretty consistent throughout the whole study, so like if someone had indicators of psychological distress in wave one, they were also likely to do so in waves two and three; so it wasn't just like a one-off occasion.

We also found some evidence of associations between not being in work or study and higher levels of psychological distress, lower levels of life satisfaction and lower levels of self-mastery; so a sense of feeling in control of your life. More positively, we found a lot of care leavers had maintained contact with biological family and continue to do so after they left care, and they were mostly pretty happy with the level of contact that they had with their family, and thought those kind of biological family relationships were important, but they could also be very complicated and complex, and sometimes very stressful. And although people were often happy with the levels of contact they had with biological family, the family wasn't always a major source of, I suppose, emotional or financial support; and Jade will probably talk a little bit more about that.

So just to sum up a little bit in terms of those outcomes before I pass over to Jade. Basically we found that a lot of care leavers faced significant life challenges, and this was particularly true of the nearly half of the study who weren't in education or employment at the time that we surveyed them. Those young people in particular had higher levels of psychological distress and lower levels of education and well-being in general. We didn't find any explanatory features or strong statistical associations that really explained why some young people were doing better than others; like it wasn't strongly associated with their placement type when they were in care, or their number of placements.

Partly that's possibly because most of the young people in the study had a high number of placements, so it was hard to distinguish. But I think generally what we found through the interviews and survey is that a lot care leavers, particularly those were doing not so well, had very complex and compounding issues. So challenges in one part of their life were associated with challenges in another. So stress and anxiety or poor mental health could affect their educational participation or ability to maintain employment or housing; but unstable housing or financial difficulties were also a cause of stress for a lot of people, so they could exacerbate pre-existing issues as well.

That said, care leavers also told us that ongoing support from their carers or from their workers or from family and friends could sometimes help them to avoid some of these challenges. Not everyone was doing really badly, some people had got a lot of help, and for some it had helped them to cope better with the challenges that they had. So there was a number of life challenges spread across the study, but some people were able to draw on support from services or workers or family or friends to help them overcome those – or just cope with them. So at this point I'm going to hand over to Jade, and she'll talk to you a little bit more about what the young people told us about their support needs and the relationships.

MS PURTELL: Thanks Stuart. So as you've noted, results of the surveys and interviews suggest that those young people who were transitioning from care at the time, were frequently facing a lot of major life stressors. This well-established in the (indistinct) transitioning from care research, but what I think was borne out by Beyond 18's results, is some of the ways that these stressors are more difficult for young people leaving care to deal with.

With that in mind, I'd just like to take a quick moment to acknowledge the participants in this research and people who've been in care. Young people in the surveys reported many difficult and personal things. The qualitative interviews then detailed a lot of distressing issues that young people had little support available for; and I'll talk a little bit more about those. But first, I just want to acknowledge that many young people interviewed explained that their motivation for being in the research and sharing these experiences, was their hope that their contribution would go towards preventing other young people from going through what they had been through.

So in terms of social supports and relationships, most participants were broadly satisfied with the level of contact they had with birth family, but described barriers to seeing their siblings who were still in out of home care. Young people's relationships with their biological families were often complex, although most young people valued contact with biological family, relationships with parents would be stressful and upsetting. Young people who moved back in with biological parents after transitioning sometimes experienced further relationship breakdowns, leading to further housing instability.

When asked about housing mobility, young people also often referred back to issues with relationships. They experienced conflict with family, friends or housemates, or found it too difficult to live with other people. In the qualitative interviews, many young people stated that they had limited social networks. This was a cause of distress for many participants in the interviews, many of whom indicated that they felt isolated and alone, although some reported ongoing relationships with former carers, others had lost contact or were wary over-burdening former carers or friends with their problems or support needs. So even when young people had access to supports, so they felt that their issues might be burdensome to others and tried to keep things to themselves often.

So if we just move on to the next slide here, we can see a few quotes from the qualitative interviews. So social relationship problems had a range of underlying causes, like previous trauma and neglect, plus development and behavioural issues, but these are exacerbated by high mobility, like with placement and school changes, issues with conflict or bullying, especially in residential care or at school or in workplaces. There was a strong theme of the stigma of being in care and the lack of a normal socialisation was mentioned by many of the participants. Particular issues for young people from residential care included having limited opportunities to build extended social networks or engage in social life while in out of home care; from seeming different to other kids at school and missing out on social outings, to just feel different and stigmatised about everyday things like their home and family arrangements.

So the first quote on this slide is talking about residential care and the limits of resourcing in terms of getting transported to different schools and programs, and the social impact of disrupted schooling, feeling out of place or feeling different for living in residential care. The next quote described a young person's feeling that they missed out on a lot of fun, but experienced endless paperwork. This last quote describes how a young person can feel forever different because their family situation is different to standard narratives about family that exist in everyday conversation.

This different in family arrangements meant that many young people did not have family members to call on for support or practical assistance, as most of the rest of us often do, to get us through moving house, studying, work and other pressures. Many of the interviewees felt the impact of the service system's lack of awareness of this. For example, one young woman had a spinal condition and wasn't able to get funding for a removalist, as she had already accessed that brokerage funding for a previous move. So following this next housing breakdown, she had to move furniture herself.

Another young man had to take public transport from regional Victoria to Melbourne for his specialist medical treatment for deteriorating vision. The hospital sometimes made his appointments early in the morning, which mean that he would take out a Centrelink loan to get a hotel in the city the night before, so that he could make it to the appointment in time. The train didn't leave early enough for him to get to the morning appointments. This could be a problem for anyone else from regional Australia, but as a young man transitioning from care, running up Centrelink debts could impact his ability to pay rent. He wasn't able to work because he was going blind, but he wasn't able to be assessed for disability support yet either.

Without a supportive family and community network, he was somewhat isolated, and dealing with all of this largely on his own. On the other hand, one young man was on his way to studying medicine with the ongoing support of his foster family, an independent housing unit that was built in their backyard, and community and philanthropic supported scholarships for his university expenses. So you can see that there's a difference in these last two examples in how social and community support can make a huge difference.

So just to the last slide. And consistency and continuity were highly valued and were described as enabling young people to build relationships of trust and to gain access to support services. Conversely, inconsistent support or frequent changes of workers, was described as hindering young people's ability to develop social skills or to access supports. One young woman who'd lived in residential care explained how being in care can lead to isolation or how our systems can get in the way of relationships.

She says, 'From my experience of residential care, I feel like it's really funny, 'cause we always talk about how every resi kid knows every other resi kid, but at the same time, you've very isolated. For me, other than going to uni and going to work, I don't have any
like – like growing up, you don't get assigned to football teams because there's not a worker to take you there every other day, and funding is really hard to get at such short notice, and things like that. You're not really connected with like the outside world, you just know your services, and you can list off all the, you know, service people, but you don't know anything else about the actual real world. Like when I step outside of that service, I've got nothing else, like I'm not connected with anything else. You make friends with the people you're stuck with'.

So in their accounts, many young people hankered after more personal or flexible relationships with out of home care and leaving care workers. They placed a higher value on good relationships than on people that they could see or speak to outside of a formal setting. This was especially true for those who'd been in residential care. As seen in the earlier slide, around half of care leavers stayed in touch with workers after their order ended, and some also described good relationships with leaving care workers. Obviously this support was circumscribed by professional roles and time and workload, and this kind of support was again within business hours for those young people, and outside the worker's funded role or caseload. And so I'll just throw back to Stuart for any other comments.

DR MUIR: Okay, just – I think to very quickly sum up. I suppose one of the key findings for this study, which was consistent with other studies of care leavers, is that there are a significant number of people leaving care at around 18 sometimes earlier, with some significant needs for support, either because if they had need for financial support or because of their health and mental health issues. Some people are doing much better than others, and some people did manage to access significant support, either from support services or leaving care services or from former carers, but not everyone could rely on that and that kind of support was fairly consistent. So it's indicated for us, and for the people in our study, there was a need for further support from many of those young people, if they were to overcome those life challenges. And now I think that's it from us, so we'll pass over to Lou. Thank you.

MS LIMOGES: Hi everyone. Today I'm going to talk to you about two different projects we're implementing here at Uniting in New South Wales. My role at Uniting involves me in program design and implementing best practice initiatives. We take available research and practice knowledge and contextualise this to then implement what we know into practical interventions with the best chance of a successful outcome. Today I'm going to talk about our extended care pilot, which is an opportunity for young people in Uniting's care to receive ongoing support before, during and after their transition from care, and our Foyer project. This is still in the development phase, and our purpose-built Foyer will provide a targeted intervention to young people with a care history, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Both programs have been designed in response to what we know is not working for care leavers. Both programs are thinking about the provision of stable housing upon exit from care, as fundamental to a positive transition. Both programs utilise a practice approach, uniquely designed to engage vulnerable young people and respond proactively to this stage of development, and both programs seek to implement aspects of best practice and lessons learnt from research, such as the Beyond 18 study.

I'll firstly give you a quick overview of our Foyer project; a quick rundown on what is a Foyer. A Foyer is an evidenced informed approach to addressing youth homelessness that has growing momentum in Australia. Foyers have a specific focus on education and employment outcomes for young people and provides supported accommodation for the medium term. The supported tenancy aspect of Foyer provides the opportunity to sustain a tenancy and learn essential skills to be able to maintain housing. Foyers originated in France and were widely taken up in the UK as a response to youth homelessness.

There are now Foyers in many different parts of the world. The UK developed the Foyer Federation which examines best practice and provides a quality assurance mechanism. And now the Foyer Foundation has been recently established in Australia, with the goal of 30 Foyers by 2030. There are different models of tenancy and support provision in Foyers across Australia. Uniting have developed a Foyer model in collaboration with St George Community Housing and Social Ventures Australia. Our consortia are developing a purpose-built Foyer that will consist of individual studio units for young people, as well as communal areas to promote a sense of community, provide space for learning activities, and also accommodate office space for our Uniting staff who will be present at the Foyer 24/7.

Our Foyer will accommodate 53 young people at any time, for a period of up to two years. The explicit goal of the Foyer is to develop the skills of young people so they can break the cycle of homelessness, and lead independent and fulfilling lives, privileging employment and education outcomes, focuses the future on a sustainable livelihood to break this cycle. The provision of subsidised and secure housing is central for young people to be able to focus on learning and development.

We began our Foyer project in 2015, when the consortia submitted a proposal to the newly formed Office of Social Impact Investment in New South Wales. The submission led to a long negotiation with all parties, and we signed a contract in 2017 and this new Foyer in New South Wales was announced. The development application was then submitted to council for our purpose-built Foyer, and once the DA was finalised, the purchase of the land was settled, which has only very recently occurred this April just gone. So this is a really exciting step in our project, as the current building on the site is due to be demolished and the Foyer building development will finally commence. This will take about 18 months, and we hope to open doors for service delivery in early 2021. The site is in an incredible location in Sydney, close to three universities, TAFE, access to employment, public transport, and the CBD of Sydney is right on the doorstep. Our Foyer will be in the vibrant diverse suburb and community of Chippendale, for those of you who don't know Sydney, which has other student accommodation in the vicinity, and access to a range of youth-friendly social, community and service support.

Uniquely our Foyer will be funded as a social benefit bond. A social benefit bond is a financial instrument that pays a financial return based on the achievement of agreed social outcomes. Under a social benefit bond, private investors fund the delivery of services targeting an improvement in a particular social outcome, in this case, reduced homelessness and education employment outcomes. Achievement of this outcome should reduce need and therefore government spending on acute and more expensive service. Part of the resulting public sector savings are used to repay investors' principal, and also make additional reward payments. The level of the return on investment is dependent on the degree of improvement achieved.

Our Foyer will specifically target care leavers. As we know, young people with a care history are over-represented in the homelessness population. The statistics and stories are reiterated in the Beyond 18 study that we just heard from Stuart and Jade about. A recently released evaluation of the education first youth Foyers in Victoria confirms the number of young people who come directly from out of care to their Foyers, is around 33 per cent.

Our Foyer will have referrals from two different cohorts. A cohort of young people who will be directly referred as they transition from care, and a cohort of young people who have already exited care and are homeless or at risk of homelessness, who are referred from other parts of the service sector. Young people will be between 18 and 21 years when they enter the Foyer. For a Foyer, young people have to be Foyer ready, meaning they'll need to demonstrate motivation to engage in education or employment of some kind. We believe our Foyer project will add a valuable housing pathway and support opportunity for care leavers in New South Wales. We'll take referrals from Sydney metropolitan district, however we will also take referrals from regional and rural areas in recognition that vulnerable young people in those areas often have aspirations beyond their home town, but are without the resources to live and learn away from their current location.

So I'm going to talk a little bit about advantage thinking in a Foyer. So this term was originally coined open talent by Colin Falcon of the UK Foyer Federation. It's imbedded across UK Foyers and has been adapted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and used in the education of first youth Foyers in Victoria. Uniting discovered this practice approach through our early research into Foyers. Throughout this presentation, I'm using content about advantage thinking developed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence. This is the practice framework that we will imbed into our Foyer, and we are already partnering with the Brotherhood of St Laurence to adapt and adopt the practice framework for our extended care pilot that I'll talk about shortly.

Advantage thinking is partly what makes a Foyer unique and not just another transitional housing product. This practice approach deliberately privileges education and employment outcomes and aims to build the capabilities of young people and their capacity to access resources, opportunities, and to make positive decisions for a sustainable future beyond the Foyer. Foyers encourage learning across life domains within a supported environment, at a pace suitable to the individual's development needs, skills and strengths. Learning experiences develop social capital for young people, connection and essential life skills.

Foyers work collaboratively with young people to empower them, recognising this critical stage of development is unique, and requires specific practice approaches to work proactively and positively with young people. Foyers deliberately work to partner with other parts of the service system and local community to crate pathways and opportunities for young people beyond the Foyer, beyond the service system. Links with education and employment providers, partnership with the wider service sector, community housing and links into the corporate sector, all support Foyers to deliver positive outcomes to young people.

There are five key practice areas, that if I talk about them a little bit, kind of bring advantage thinking to life. Place is the first one, where we want to connect young people with places that inspire them and that promote connectedness and belonging. We also want proximity to mainstream services, employers and education. Thinking about place imbeds a program and people within the community. The development and design of the Foyer very deliberately thinks about place in its design, to promote community connectedness and provide an inspiring and motivating place to live and learn. So the Foyer built is a quality build and where it's situated in Chippendale, has amazing access to resources.

People. As we know, many young people with a care history have limited personal and professional connections. To achieve their potential, young people need to be surrounded by other people, community members, cultural leaders, employers, mentors, who believe that all young people are talented and valuable members of the community. We want to connect young people to other people in their lives who are going to support them, beyond the service system. For young people to hold high aspirations and achieve their goals, they need access to diverse opportunities. A critical part of the advantage thinking approach is brokering these opportunities matched to the interests and aspirations of the individual.

The deal is a concept that fosters shared ownership of the planning, access to opportunities and services that constitute the model. By getting young people to enter into a form of social contract with the program, it instils a relationship of reciprocity and equality between them and the program itself. It makes explicit the responsibility of the worker to facilitate opportunities for young people, and for the young person to give things a go. And the campaign. The campaign outlines an agenda for the youth sector to change the way we look at, see, understand and talk about young people. It focuses on changing community perceptions, and challenges us to influence other service providers and the wider community to focus on young people's capabilities rather than their deficits. This is truly youth-centric practice, that deliberately finds ways of giving young people their voice and choice and control over their lives.

There are five service offers within the advantage thinking framework. They will cover life domains and support young people to think about their future through structured mentoring and coaching, using practices, processes and tools that a young person centred and directed. These domains are education, employment, health and well-being, connections, housing and living skills. Advantage thinking promotes and upholds the rights and responsibilities of all people in co-creating solutions to address disadvantage and exclusion. Importantly, it prioritises people's access to mainstream and universal services, education, employment and community.

So I'll give you a quick tour of our extended care pilot now. Uniting is a long-standing provider of out of home care in New South Wales. The termination of care orders at 18 is current practice in New South Wales. Program resources rarely permit our
hard-working out of home care staff to continue working with young people beyond 18, except for a light touch support response. Where young people appear to be vulnerable to poor outcomes, we refer them to an aftercare service, if one exists in that area, and we do what we can with an existing and already stretched resources. Regardless of whether a young person appears to be ready for this next step, there is an abrupt end for care leavers in New South Wales.

At Uniting we wanted to pilot something based on research and best practice, that we think will make a positive difference to our population of care leavers. Uniting has recently developed a strategic plan that enables internal uniting funds to be used to pilot initiatives that seek to make positive social impact for targeted vulnerable populations. The extended care pilot is the first such initiative under our future's horizons strategy, to be funded by Uniting, for a five year pilot program that will extend support and service provision to young people in care with Uniting until 21 years.

So what is different about our extended care pilot? Uniting's also been a long-standing provider of specialist aftercare services here in New South Wales. Aftercare services are an essential part of the service system, however these programs mostly see young people in crises after they have already left care, when something has gone wrong in their lives. We want to try and intervene earlier from the age of 15 years, to change the transition from care experience for young people leaving Uniting's care. The objective of the pilot is to give young people in out of home care the opportunity to develop and grow into maturity, in a way that reflects the opportunities young people who are not in care, have available to them.

The extended care pilot program will change our relationship with young people in two ways; by providing ongoing support to the young person in practical and tangible ways, including the provision of ongoing foster care or other forms of supported accommodation, up to 21 years; and adopting a new way of engaging with the young person, based on advantage thinking, that promotes youth-centric practice.

So how will we do this? And I'll run through a few key features of the pilot. We will work with young people from 15 through to 21 to offer a seamless transition. The pilot program will sit alongside our out of home care program, however the pilot staff are not part of the out of home care staff system. The pilot program has been designed as a different program type, with a separating reporting line. We want young people enrolled in the program to be able to build a new relationship with pilot program staff, as these staff are key to providing that seamless transition, working with young people before, during and after they transition from care.

Pilot program staff are called youth development coaches in a deliberate attempt to define the role as different to an out of home care case worker delivering case management. Youth development coaches have been employed who have multidisciplinary experience in working with young people, are passionate about working with young people, and have demonstrated ability in coaching and mentoring. Coaches offer consistent yet flexible one-to-one supports to young people. We believe a sustained, authentic and transparent relationship between coaches and young people will lead to greater engagement and higher quality outcomes.

Unstable housing is a critical issue for young people post-care, as we know. We know that the foundation of safe and secure housing is necessary for young people so they can focus on the other areas of their life that are important. The pilot has included funding to be able to provide ongoing accommodation support in two ways. We will cover the cost of a carer allowance to enable the young person to remain with the carer to the age of 21. Care orders cease at 18 and as such, the young person will be making an independent decision to remain in the carer's home. We will set up an expectation that carers continue to provide care until 21, however we recognise that this is voluntary for both the carer and the young person. Where remaining with a foster carer is not possible, support for accommodation will consist of some subsidised tenancy support, where other options for safe, affordable housing, with secure tenure, have been explored.

And back to talking about advantage thinking. We decided to trial advantage thinking approaches in the extended care pilot. Central to the approach is the belief that all young people have capabilities, talents and aspirations, that characterise them beyond their support needs, and it is our job as practitioners to provide those opportunities and resources for young people to realise their individual potential. Advantage thinking recognises and builds young people's agency by emphasising what people can do, rather than what they can't do.

MS LIMOGES: This builds young people's capacity to make positive decisions in their lives and to think and act on their own behalf. It is reflected in the language that we use when having conversations with young people, and also in how we describe them.

This is a subtle but powerful distinction to how we describe and think about young people in out-of-home care who are often characterised by the number of placements or carers, level of carer allowance supplied, risk and behaviour support plans, diagnoses, and complex histories.

Our theory is that by providing a mental and a relational safety net for young people outside the system, we can work collaboratively with young people to make positive and informed choices that encourage independence that is co-created and developmentally appropriate.

We've commissioned an external evaluation that will examine the cohort over the five-year period using both qualitative and quantitative data. There is a process outcomes and economic aspect to the evaluation we have commissioned. We'll be able to reflect on what is working and what program elements could be improved during the life of the program using ongoing evaluation results for continuous program improvement. The outcomes evaluation will help us determine what aspects of the program made a difference to individual young people, and we will also look at the economic cost benefit of the program to quantify potential savings.

So, where are we up to now? The program manager was employed in February, and the program went live mid-April this year when all the youth development coaches were recruited. The coaches were all inducted and trained and have been gradually introducing themselves to the cohort of young people enrolled in the pilot.

We're really excited about the pilot, and being able to offer this opportunity to young people in Uniting's care. Young people have a safety net after leaving care that is designed to proactively and collaboratively manage their transition from care at Uniting.

Thank you. I'll hand back to Deb.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thank you, Lou. And thanks Stewart and Jade for a very informative and insightful presentation today. We'd now turn to some questions that participants have posted.

The first question that I have here is directed to the Beyond 18 project. The question is: 'I am unsure of the Victorian service model but were experiences of post-care support, and the development and understanding of their Leaving Care plans and finances available, different if case management was provided by DHHS or non-government service providers?'

MS PURTELL: I don't think that we had information about who was case-managing young people, if it was department or community service organisation.

DR MUIR: We did ask for some of that information earlier on in the study. Young people didn't always know or, sometimes they had multiple case managers, and they would sometimes move between the DHHS and non-government. Most of the ones we knew about, certainly their post-care support was from non-government workers. And there were no noticeable patterns, or differences between the types of support. It was patchy. Like, there was quite inconsistent levels of support, but there was no particular pattern to that.

MS KIRKWOOD: Okay, thanks. And there's one other question here: 'Did you ask the leavers about whether access to a case worker and department support would have been good and/or helpful?'

MS PURTELL: I don't that we asked something around that specifically, but I think young people's comments in the interviews usually pointed to wanting to have someone there that they knew of, that they had a prior either organisational relationship, or even personal worker relationship with, just knowing where to go for help, and where to go back to. But yes, it wasn't specific, in terms of the question.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thank you. And a question for Lou here. Lou, how will Foyer determine whether young people are Foyer-ready? Guidelines for suitability could indeed exclude young people who need the services most. For example, very complex needs such as substance abuse problems or young people with children of their own.

MS LIMOGES: That's a great question, and one we've been asked many times. Firstly, Foyer, as a transitional housing product, is not um, for every young person, and it specifically targets young people who don't have children. There is a Foyer in WA that is pretty amazing, and they have one-bedroom apartments with like, a separate sort of space, and they do have single parents. We chose not to do that for our first Foyer, as it is a payment by results contract. We wanted to be really targeted in what we were doing. It's already a pretty complex project that we've put together.

In terms of people who've used the term 'cherry-picking' before, which is unhelpful in some ways. So, to help young people be Foyer-ready, there's a fairly comprehensive assessment process that asks the young person to get involved. So it's not that any young person would be too complex for the Foyer, and certainly, we've deliberately looked at what a case mix, for want of a better word, would look like in the Foyer of ensuring that there's different levels of need. Because we are talking about a congregate setting, so we need to be careful that it's a balanced community, if you like, where there are lots of different needs. But one of the things that we do want to see in that assessment process is that young people, regardless of whether they've got a criminal history, substance abuse issues, complex mental health, that they are ready and motivated to engage in education and employment as the pathway out of disadvantage. And we really want to maximise the opportunity for young people who live in the Foyer to engage in that process.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thanks very much, Lou. And one other question you might be able to assist us with is one participant has asked, 'Has there been any further consideration for extending care to the age of 21 years in New South Wales?'

MS LIMOGES: Formally, no, at this point. The New South Wales government hasn't moved on that but I know that the Home Stretch campaign is working really hard across Australia to look at raising the age in all those states that don't yet have that happening.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thanks. And just back on the Beyond 18 post-care outcomes, the study found no single factor explained why some young people had better or worse outcomes, but rather a combination of factors that reinforced each other. Can you outline what some of those factors were, and how they reinforced each other?

DR MUIR: There was no particular pattern. There was a lot of different outcomes, some of which we were able to measure in the study, and some of which weren't. So, there was no statistical pattern that emerged. It was more in the (indistinct) so that there was nothing particular in the statistics that showed that any particular combination or any particular variable influenced their outcomes. So, we were looking at things like placement, stability, what age they'd entered care, the type of care they'd been, their legal status, those kinds of things. None of those things on their own explained things, and even in combination, they didn't necessarily adhere in any particular pattern, apart from the fact that there was some possible association between young people who'd entered care after they were 10 and had had more than six placements had slightly worse outcomes than everyone else. But that was kind of an extreme case.

More generally from the interviews, it emerged that a lot of people had had very complex life histories. So young people in residential care had often entered care quite late, or they'd had extremely traumatic life histories or life events, which had led to placement instability, which had led to them ending up in residential care, which meant that they – and then they'd had some sometimes difficult experiences in out-of-home care.

And one of the other things we didn't mention in this presentation is that there was also a lot of ...

(audio dropout)

... of being in care were exacerbated by the fact that they often left care without many social supports.

So it was those kind of compounding factors – and as I mentioned also, a lot of young people had mental health issues which also would compound issues to do with employment or education. And Jade can probably talk about how some of the young people spoke about how their mental health affected their ability to participate in education.

MS PURTELL: Well, maybe I can think of that in a moment but in my mind at the moment is for young people who were sort of, could be seen as having better outcomes who were involved in education or employment and even those young people who were perhaps in kinship care with grandparents, so they'd had a continual home and they were still at that home, still there was levels of social anxiety or bullying at work or study pressures or maybe a family crisis, or you know, an abusive parent getting in touch before an exam. All these kinds of little things can throw people off those positive pathways and so, I guess for young people who aren't doing as well, you just multiply that exponentially. Yes, there's just so many things that can affect people at any given time.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thanks, Jade. And just while we've got you, there's one more question here: 'Did young people indicate reasons for leaving their carer? Was it their decision, or other factors? Did the young people indicate they would have preferred the care to extend beyond 18 years of age?'

MS PURTELL: I can only think of the one example of the young man who was studying medicine who, probably the case management team and some strong advocacy from a foster carer, had got that unit installed in the back of their house, and certainly, that was credited with the stability that was helping with his studies. I don't remember anyone specifically talking about what happened with their carer or, in fact, you know, the emotional event I guess, of leaving their house and that sort of thing. Probably would have been quite distressing as well, so I didn't ask questions when people sounded like they had extremely distressing things to say.

DR MUIR: I suppose what we did talk about – so young people didn't say that they would have like to have stayed in care past 18 necessarily. Um, what they did talk about, and I suppose what emerged is that some people did stay with carers past the age of 18, and those, they tended to be very solid relationships and feel quite supported in those relationships. And other people indicated that that wasn't possible for them either because they didn't have a carer, because they came from residential care, or that they didn't have that kind of relationship and it was just assumed that they would leave at the end.

That didn't even necessarily mean that there was a poor relationship with their carer. There just wasn't an expectation that they would have extended care and be able to stay on. So it was kind of just taken as a given that their care ended, so they left, and they moved out. Even though they often maintained contact with them, they didn't necessarily live with them anymore.

MS PURTELL: I might just quickly add to that that with the transition planning processes supposed to be initiated around 15, a lot of young people talked about the anxiety that they felt in the lead-up to being 18. So I think it was very clear in a lot of young people's minds that they were out and that they needed to make plans. And they described that as a very, very difficult time, not knowing where they were going to live, not knowing where they could go, who was going to help. And that was prior to leaving services. So that actually impacted people's ability to do planning because young people didn't want to be involved. They were too upset.

MS KIRKWOOD: Okay, thank you. And Lou, I have another question here for you. This participants is interested to know how young people with lived experience are involved in your advocacy work, and in commissioning and evaluating the pilot?

MS LIMOGES: Good question. We are yet to set up a rigorous reference group of young people because we want to legitimately use the community of young people once we go live. We are – for different aspects of the project, we have engaged internally with young people who have had a care history, and we are currently looking at a particular project piece engaging with facts, have a youth consult for change group, which are a group of care leavers, and hopefully utilising that group for some particular project pieces of work. It's such a long complex project that we've had different engagement at different times for different purposes but certainly once we go live, we want to make sure that we have an active reference group, or whatever young people choose to call it, who live in the Foyer community actively participating in what that Foyer community looks like, feels like, the activities that occur etc., etc. It's their home, and we really genuinely want to promote that youth-centric practice.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thank you. And there's one more question here for you, Lou. 'Do Uniting utilise volunteers in supporting the youth development coaches as mentors?'

MS LIMOGES: It's a good question. Early days. I think that the answer is yes, in the broadest sense that I'm not sure of an individual case where that's actually happening yet, however the whole premise of having those youth development coaches is to have a different relationship with the young person that explores all the opportunities relevant to them and their development and where they want to go, and what they want to do. And the coach's job is to walk alongside that young person and support them to do those things. So, so interesting listening to Stewart and Jade talking about you know, the quotes from young people who couldn't access their local sporting club and felt isolated because they couldn't join in on re=gular activities/. They're exactly the sorts of things that we want youth development coaches to be able to do, and break down some of those barriers for young people to give them a different experience and build their capacity and capability to be connected to the rest of the community, hopefully prior to leaving care but certainly during and after.

MS KIRKWOOD: Great, thank you. And this question - any of the presenters could feel free to answer this question. 'What is the referral pathway for young people that become parents?'

MS PURTELL: So, I'm not sure of the context of that, but I know that in Victoria, we have the Cradle to Kinder program and I think that the best interests practice manual directs people to refer to Cradle to Kinder for any young people in care who are currently pregnant. And then I think post-care – maybe a worker would help them to access the Queen Elizabeth Centre or Tweddle or those kinds of services, but like a lot of things, it's about finding someone who knows where to send you, and having access.

MS KIRKWOOD: Thank you. Is there anything any of the presenters wanted to add before we wrap up today?

DR MUIR: No, I think that we've covered all that we were going to speak to, speak about today.

MS KIRKWOOD: Well, thank you, Stewart and Jade ...

(audio dropout)

MS LIMOGES: Likewise, thanks...

(audio dropout)

MS KIRKWOOD: ... and Lou. And thank you everyone for attending today. Please follow the link on your screen to our website to continue the conversation, and as you leave the webinar, a short survey will open in a new window. We would greatly appreciate your feedback. And please note that any unanswered questions may be published along with your first name on the CFCA website for a response from the presenters after the webinar. Please let us know if you don't want your question or first name to be published on our website. Thanks for joining us.

WEBINAR CONCLUDED

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Slide outline: Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices

Slide outline

1. Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices

Stewart Muir, Jade Purtell and Lou Limoges
CFCA Webinar
24 July 2019 

2. House keeping

  • Send through your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar. 
  • Let us know if you don’t want your question published on the online forum following the presentation. 
  • All our webinars are recorded. 
  • The slides are available in the handout section of Gotowebinar. 
  • The audio and transcript will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week. 

3. Transitions from out-of-home care in Victoria:
The  Beyond 18 Study
Jade Purtell & Stewart Muir

4. The Beyond 18 Study

  • Commissioned by Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
  • Data collection between 2015 and 2018
  • Main components:
    • Survey of Young people with an OOHC experience
    • Qualitative interviews with young people who participated in the survey
  • Also data from:
    • Online surveys of OOHC and Leaving Care workers and foster & kinship carers
    • Analysis of DHHS Client Relationship Information System (CRIS) data 

5. The Survey of Young People

  • Three waves of an online survey
    • Wave 1: 2015-2016
    • Wave 2: 2016-2017
    • Wave 3: 2017-2018
  • Eligibility for the survey
    • Born between 1996-2001
    • Time in OOHC in Victoria after age 15
  • Follow-up qualitative telephone interviews with approx. 30 young people in each survey wave (>80 in total)

6. Young people in the study

  • Participants recruited through services, workers, peak bodies
  • 202 participants in Wave 1
  • 126 participants in Wave 2 and Wave 3
  • Over-representation of residential care: 40% of participants compared to 15% of age peers
  • Under-representation of kinship care: 11% of participants compared to 48% of age peers (in Wave 3)
  • 11% of participants were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people 

7. Snapshot of in-care experiences

  • High rates of in-care movement. E.g. in the Wave 1 survey > 50% of participants had moved placement more than 3 times
  • Young people in the study had limited knowledge of:
    • transition plans
    • available services or funding
  • High levels of emotional and peer relationship problems in SDQ
  • Low levels of educational attainment:
    • 1 in 4 school leavers had completed Year 12
    • 1 in 4 had not completed Year 10

8. Snapshot of post-care outcomes

  • Complex patterns of post-care housing and high rates of mobility (1 in 5 had moved 3+ times in last 12 months)
  • Less than half of care leavers in the study earned wages of any kind (but slight improvement over time)
  • Low incomes (> 70% below the Henderson Poverty line) and high levels of financial stress
  • Continued low educational achievement (at end of study only 1 in 4 finished Year 12)
    • By Wave 3, over half had undertaken further study and six people had undertaken university study 

9. Snapshot of post-care outcomes cont..

  • Nearly 1 in 2 had indications of psychological distress on screening measures
  • High reported rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation
  • Service use remained variable
  • Social networks and relationships important but complex:
    • Most (2 in 3) care leavers had contact with biological parents but friends, partners and former carers were more often key sources of support
    • Friends important but social networks were often limited

10. Outcome patterns

  • Overall poorer than average outcomes in employment, education and physical and mental health
  • but also resilience and desire to improve lives
  • By end of the study, a group of care leavers doing ‘less well’ had emerged - not in education or employment and with poorer mental health
  • Even those doing “better” faced a range of challenges
  • Study did not find single factors that “explained” why some young people had better or worse outcomes:
    • Combination of factors that could reinforce each other
  • Young people told us that strong social relationships and ongoing post-care support could help

11. Social supports

  • Around 3/4 of young people from home-based care in contact with former carers after end of order
  • 1 in 3 young people who had left foster or kinship care kept in contact with former case workers
    • Over half of residential care leavers in contact with former workers
  • Partners and friends the mostly frequently nominated sources of support (in Wave 3)
  • 2/3 of care leavers had contact with their biological parents after leaving care
  • Many reported struggles with social relationships and/or limited social networks

12. Community and social networks

…living in a structured home meant missing out on daily school attendance, social outings and fitting in with others. I always and still do stand out.

There were lots of people always doing paperwork for me and about me, but no one was ever able to take me to do fun things

I never invite friends over because its embarrassing. I feel different when everyone talks about things with their parents when I don't get to see mine.

13. Service Use

  • Contact with leaving care services was variable
    • Less than half of care leavers reported contact with Leaving Care services in the first 12 months after leaving care
    • Half of care leavers received leaving care funding
  • More than half of Wave 3 participants indicated that they had needed additional support when leaving OOHC
    • Areas where they wanted additional help: education, budgeting, emotional support and mental health
  • Young people did not always know what services were available
  • Relationships with OOHC and Leaving Care workers were crucial 
    • Consistency and continuity were highly valued
    • Inconsistent support or frequent changes of worker described as harmful

14. Uniting’s Foyer & Extended Care Pilot Programs

15. What is a Foyer?

  • Focus on education & employment whilst providing safe & affordable housing to young people
  • Originated in France
  • Developed in the UK to respond to youth homelessness
  • UK developed the Foyer Federation
  • The Foyer Foundation in Australia has the goal of 30 Foyers by 2030
  • Uniting are developing a purpose built Foyer with St George Community Housing, Social Ventures Australia and the NSW Government. 

16. Project Timeline

Diagram displays project timeline spanning from September 2014 to January 2021. The project timeline shows four key stages involved in the Uniting Youth Foyer project:

  1. Project scoping phase (September 2014 to October 2015)
  2. Joint development phase with partner organisations (January 2016 to September 2017)
  3. Youth Foyer property deal and settlement phase (August 2017 to October 2018) and
  4. Property development phase (June 2019 to January 2021).

17. Social Benefit Bond =

A social benefit bond (SBB) is a financial instrument that pays a return based on the achievement of agreed social outcomes.

Under an SBB, private investors fund the delivery of services targeting an improvement in a particular social outcome. Achievement of this outcome should reduce need and government spending on acute and more expensive services.

Part of the resulting public sector savings are used to repay investors’ principal and also make additional reward payments. The level of the return on investment is dependent on the degree of improvement achieved.

18. A Foyer for young people with a care history

Young people with a care history who are homeless or at risk of homelessness

Two cohorts:

  1. Young People exiting care – entering Foyer as part of their transition
  2. Young people who have already exited care and are referred from other parts of the service system
  • Between 18 – 21 years upon entry to the Foyer
  • Sydney and greater NSW referral pathways

19. Advantaged Thinking and Foyer

  • Originally developed by Colin Falconer in the UK
  • Adapted by the Brotherhood of St Lawrence in Australia
  • Recognises young people’s talents and strengths
  • Resources young people to develop aspirations, goals and plans
  • Young people need ownership of the decisions that affect their future
  • Ensures young people can activate their rights and responsibilities in accessing services
  • The capacity, strengths and opportunities within the whole community are harnessed for each young person to achieve their full potential beyond service system reliance 

20. Five Key Practice Areas

  • Place
  • People
  • Opportunities
  • The Deal
  • The Campaign

21. Five Service Offers of Advantaged Thinking

Five service offers across life domains:

  1. Education: engagement with courses, training and mainstream institutions, learning experiences
  2. Employment: build pathways, make connections, work experiences, jobs
  3. Health and Wellbeing: build positive physical and emotional experiences and respond to negative experience in a positive way
  4. Connections: social and emotional knowledge, skills and opportunities to develop healthy relationships and better access to culture and community
  5. Housing and Living Skills: prepare young people for independent living and provide them with access to a range of housing

22. Extended Care Pilot

  • Care orders cease in NSW at 18 years
  • Uniting is an OOHC provider (or Permanency Support Provider - PSP) in NSW
  • Uniting’s commitment to social justice and increased social impact
  • Extended Care Pilot is a Uniting Futures Horizon Strategic Initiative
  • 5 year pilot program to provide ongoing support to young people leaving Uniting’s care
  • Designed as an early intervention response, working with young people from 15 to 21 years, providing a seamless transition

23. What is different about our Extended Care Pilot?

The program will change our relationship with young people by removing the abrupt end to the care we provide in two ways:

  • The provision of ongoing support to young people including ongoing foster care, or other forms of supported accommodation.
  • Adopting a new way of engaging with young people based on Advantaged Thinking, delivered through coaching and mentoring and a set of youth centric processes, practices and tools.

24. Key features of the Pilot:
Early intervention & Continuity of support

  • The Youth Development Coach is different to an OOHC case worker.
  • Coaching support is consistent and flexible one to one support.
  • Work in collaboration with OOHC from 15 years. The Coach will continue working with the young person post 18 years, providing this seamless transition.
  • We believe in sustained, authentic and transparent relationships between coaches and young people will lead to greater engagement and higher quality outcomes. 

25. Key features of the Pilot:
Housing is fundamental to a positive transition

Ongoing accommodation support provided in two ways:

  • We will cover the cost of a carer allowance to enable the young person to remain with their carer to the age of 21.  This is a voluntary arrangement.

  • Housing options post care will be explored early.

  • Where remaining with a foster carer is not possible, support for accommodation will consist of some subsidised tenancy support where other options for safe, affordable housing with secure tenure have been explored.

26. Key features of the Pilot:
Embedded Practice Approach – Advantaged Thinking

Central to this approach is the belief that all young people have capabilities, talents and aspirations that characterise them beyond their support needs and it is our job as practitioners to provide opportunities and resources for young people to realise their individual potential.

Advantaged Thinking recognises and builds young people’s agency by recognising what people can do rather than what they can’t do. 

27. Pilot Evaluation

  • External evaluation commissioned
  • 5 years using both quantitative and qualitative data
  • Process, Outcomes and Economic Evaluation
  • Yearly reporting and feedback so we will be able to continually improve and refine the program in response to what we learn 

28. Implementation Timeline 2019

Diagram displays implementation timeline spanning from January 2019 to November 2019 across the following domains:

  • Recruitment (January to end of March)
  • External evaluation scoping and set up (February to end of July)
  • Manager and staff induction and training (February to end of April)
  • Introductory roadshow (March)
  • Youth Development Coaches start engaging with young people (May to end of July)
  • Stakeholder communication (January to November)

29. Thank you

30. Continue the conversation…

Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar: 

aifs.gov.au/cfca/news-discussion

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 24 July 2019. 

In most Australian states and territories, out-of-home care arrangements still end when a young person turns 18 years old. For some care leavers, this can result in an abrupt transition into independent living at an age when many young people in the general population are still supported by their parents. Many care leavers also have complex histories of trauma or neglect that can hinder their social and emotional development. Young people need to be supported during this transition to adulthood to help them achieve better outcomes in employment, education and mental health. 

This webinar shared insights into young people’s experiences of leaving care based on recent findings from the Beyond 18 longitudinal study in Victoria. Specifically, it explored what young people involved in the study said about:

  • the challenges they faced when preparing to leave care
  • how they fared after they left care
    and
  • the supports they and other care leavers needed most.

The webinar also discussed two examples of promising practices from Uniting, New South Wales, that aim to better support young care leavers during this transition: an extended care pilot program and the introduction of a youth foyer project that specifically targets care leavers. This webinar is of interest to policy makers and practitioners working with young people across a range of sectors, including out-of-home care, aftercare, mental health, education, employment, homelessness and housing.

Related resources


Featured image: © GettyImages/Mlenny

About the presenters

Stewart Muir

Stewart is a Senior Research Fellow at AIFS and an anthropologist by training. He has research interests in service provision to families, inequality and life outcomes, and qualitative research methods. In recent years, Stewart has undertaken research on out-of-home care, services for victims of family and domestic violence, behaviour change and the role of evidence-informed practice in service provision and policy making.

Jade Purtell

Jade was a Senior Research Officer at AIFS working on Beyond 18, for which she co-authored the Wave 2 and Wave 3 research reports. Jade previously worked with the Department of Social Work at Monash University on the evaluation of two Victorian leaving care programs and is a PhD candidate researching young people with a care experience and early parenting. Jade is currently working at the Brotherhood of St Laurence as Service Development Coordinator Out-of-Home Care and Leaving Care.

Lou Limoges

Lou has worked at Uniting for 10 years and currently works as a Practice Lead covering a portfolio of programs that are youth, homelessness, leaving or aftercare related. In this role, Lou focuses on program design, implementing quality, evidence-informed practice initiatives and service improvement. Lou has worked in the community services sector for both government and non-government organisations in Australia for over 20 years across education, disability and welfare services. Lou has held several operational leadership positions in a range of different program types and has diverse sector experience.