Supporting young people to reduce housing stress and start a future that means something to them

Content type
Event date

28 July 2021, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Joseph Borlagdan, Emma Cull, Anita McCurdy, Brea Dorsett




This webinar was held on Wednesday, 28 July 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic put additional strain on young Australians in housing stress. Service responses often focus on the deficits and challenges experienced by this cohort, and how these can be overcome. A capabilities approach offers an alternative way of supporting young people to address housing and related stressors to establish goals and positive pathways. 

This webinar explored a capabilities approach and how it can apply to young people experiencing housing and related stressors. Specifically, the webinar:

  • Explored COVID-19’s impact on young peoples’ experiences of homelessness
  • Provided an overview of a capabilities approach and its application to work with young people
  • Provided a case study example of a capabilities approach in action as a response to housing and other stressors.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working with young people across housing, mental health, out-of-home care, education and other child, youth and family services.

Audio transcript (edited)

WILL DOUGLAS: Welcome everyone to today's webinar, supporting young people to reduce housing stress and start a future that means something to them. I'm speaking to you today from my home is Melbourne which is located on the lands of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of Kulin nation. I'd like to acknowledge the Aboriginal owners of this land and pay respect to the Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to any elders and First Nations people attending this webinar today. When we were planning this webinar, we realised that at its core we wanted to talk about how we can flip the way we work with young people, to focus on their assets, their capabilities and not just what's going wrong for them. This can be easy to understand in principle, but it does require a shift in approach. When you work in a welfare service, you're there to help. Most of us introduce ourselves to our clients with “What can I do for you today?” So what does a shift away from, “What are my problems for you to solve?” to “How can I help you to capitalise on what you already have?” What does that look like in practice? Today we've gathered today some brilliant minds to talk through what's involved. Joseph Borlagdan from Brotherhood of St Laurence leads the youth opportunity team that conducts research and evaluation in the areas of the youth unemployment, education, leaving care and homelessness. Joseph's work brings together theoretical and practical knowledge to inform systemic change using adaptive methodologies, so he'll be doing the same setting for us today. Emma Cull, also from Brotherhood of St Laurence, is involved in leading the development and delivery of youth programs and initiatives. Having worked in the community sector for over a decade, Emma is passionate about developing programs and policies that address long term and systemic disadvantage. So Emma will be sharing how research is incorporated into practice. Anita McCurdy is the senior manager of the Shepparton Education First Youth Foyer and Better Futures Program. Anita is driven to create opportunities to identify, develop and invest in the skills and capabilities of young people. And Brea Dorsett to her right, the final member of our illustrious panel is living proof that this approach can work. With support from the Shepparton Foyer program, Brea has turned her life around and is focused on personal development and self-love. Some of you may have heard Brea on her podcast, GB Talks, that she produces out of Shepparton. Okay, without further ado I'll hand over to Joseph and Emma to begin today's presentation.

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: Okay, great. Sharing my screen now. Thank you very much for that introduction, Will. Okay, so I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging, and I also want to acknowledge that we're standing here on aboriginal land, always was, always will be, and the struggle for sovereignty continues. So we're speaking here from Victoria in Naarm and we're coming out of our fifth lockdown now, and people are generally happy but probably not as jubilant as they were coming out of other lockdowns. It feels a little bit muted, a little bit different. And I think partly that's because we've become accustomed to this endless cycle of getting into this COVID crisis, having to respond to that crisis emerging out of that and then going back into another lockdown, another crisis event. So this uncertainty has become really a permanent state of affairs for us, and it's really difficult to think about plans, to think about your future, and so if we've entered this new normal brought about by COVID, what it does is it makes us long for the old normal. Eventually we do want to go back or snap back to pre-COVID times. But I think it's worth asking when we're thinking about homelessness, what exactly are we snapping back to? So heading into the COVID pandemic, the youth unemployment rate hadn't returned to pre-global financial crisis levels and in February 2020 it was approaching the GFC peak. We know from some analysis done by the productivity commission that young people entering into the pandemic were really stuck in low-skilled and low-income work, they referred to it off the back of this analysis as a lost decade of income growth for 20 to 34 year olds. When we're looking across the different age groups of those experiencing homelessness, young people aged 25 to 34 were experiencing the greatest increase when we're looking over the past three censuses, and this is going back to 2011. And when we look at the group accessing specialist homelessness services, young people aged 25 and under were overrepresented, so they were making up 40% of that group. And then May last year in 2020 as we were really heading into the pandemic, the ANU did a survey and found that over a quarter of young people were struggling to pay their rent and mortgage. Now during this crisis, we've been somewhat fortunate; youth homelessness has stayed relatively steady, and that's because under pressure the system has been able to adapt and to flex. So we've seen this sudden short-term investment in emergency and temporary accommodation, we've seen policies to keep people housed, and we've also seen income support increase. So the rapid increase of job seeker, the introduction of job keeper and various supplements, and what that led to was for a very short time the largest drop in poverty since we started measuring the poverty line. But of course, as we all know, this is temporary. These measures have been wound back and there's a lot of talk about snapping back to the status quo. The federal government back in October, so late last year, October 2020, they launched an inquiry into homelessness, and they received a lot of submissions that pointed out some of these longer-term trends such as the casualisation of the youth workforce, decline in rental affordability, youth unemployment and underemployment. A lot of submissions that pointed out how this was putting young people at risk of homelessness during and also coming out of the COVID crisis. So the question for today is how do we take the flex in that system to build something more enduring, to start building back better. So there's a tendency when we're in crisis, when social institutions are broken, to patch over the cracks. We might have a program here, a policy tweak there, and we work more on the surface rather than looking at some of the deeper causes. But there's an opportunity here and that's why I've got this Leonard Cohen quote that you can see, “There's a crack in everything and that's how the light gets in.” Now COVID is a major crack. It sheds light not just on the problem of homelessness, but I think it also sheds light on our response to homelessness and how that response holds the problem in place. So during COVID we had those intensive short-term approaches which were needed and which were really good, but they don't address those deeper courses. So for instance here in Australia we have a national homeless service system but no national strategy. And so our responses, particularly to youth homelessness, tend to be crisis driven. We don't seem to have that appetite for long lasting or enduring reform. And so if the systems that we're using to address homelessness continue to just focus on managing problems, we end up continuing to perpetuate homelessness. So for example, we're doing some work in Tasmania at the moment off the back of a review which found that a small group of older children were falling through the cracks of various systems but in particular the out-of-home care system. And this made them very vulnerable to couch surfing or sleeping rough. And so the lesson out of that is that we often build these systems of carelessness, and instead we need to be building systems of care, systems that are person-centred rather than systems-centred. In the words of Hilary Cottam, a social designer who works in this kind of space, we need a shift from managing crisis to one where we're building capability. So coming out of a crisis or even during a crisis, I think it's more important than ever to hold on to that longer-term – that big ambition. And that really is an ambition for us around systemic change, and at the Brotherhood of St Laurence we talk about systemic change as a form of applied social policy that intentionally disrupts the systems that hold inequality and disadvantage in place. And to kind of explain what's going on in the diagram here, systemic change transforms ways of thinking, so social change, institutional structures, so policy change and service sector reform, as well as practices. So often that frontline practice reform. And we do that kind of transformation work so that populations can grow their capability to pursue lives that they value. A couple of things when we're doing this work, it's really important that we work in a way that's multilayer, that we work across multiple systems so we don't just focus on housing and homelessness, and we'll explain what that looks like in the Education First Youth Foyer model. We also work in a way that's multilevel, so we're focused on redistributing power. We work in between high-level authority, those that make the big policy decisions, and we also work with the assets of individuals and the resources of local community. And we also work in a way that's multifocal. So having the long-term ambition but keeping the short and medium-term in sight. So systemic change is really a radical break from the same old kind of status quo. It's more than just working at the surface. So yes, we definitely need better access to services. We need to improve the quality of services. We might also change the focus on the timeliness of those services from being more prevention or early intervention focused, but improving systems so that they're more efficient isn't always the same as systemic change. We need to go a little bit deeper. And in the homelessness sector, those deeper assumptions need to be challenged. So as we'll mention in the introduction, we need to shift our way of looking at young people and defining them by their deficit, so what they lack in terms of housing, employment or stable relationships, and instead we need to shift and focus on building capabilities. And I'll go into a bit more of the theory behind this, but just for now I'll say that here we're talking about capabilities as a set of relations or relationships. The relationships between young people and their worker, between young people and systems, and between young people and their communities. And it's really those social resources, those networks, that the model works on to convert them into capabilities. Capabilities not in the sense that young people possess or that they have, but capabilities as something that is relational that young people can use, so they can use those capabilities in relation with their communities and with the resources available to them. And this is really what the Education First Youth Foyer model is about. And to sort of explain how it underpins the model, I'll hand over now to Emma who's going to take us through that.

EMMA CULL: Thanks, Joseph. So as Joseph mentioned, I'm just going to give you an example of where we have applied this sort of systemic change methodology through talking about the Education First Youth Foyer model, which is operating here in Victoria in Holmesglen, Kangan and in Broadmeadows and in GOTAFE In Shepparton. So Foyer's international in origin but have really grown in frequency in Australia. They're in a response to a sort of low-cost supported accommodation options for young people who are experiencing homelessness, who are unable to live at home. There's a range of different models, but I'm going to talk specifically about the Education First Youth Foyer model, which is really looking to provide a solution beyond the housing and homelessness response and our system or service centre as Joseph talked about earlier. So the Education First model provides a congregate living setting for young people experiencing homelessness. The three that are on the screen here are a 40-bed self-contained units, but they have these congregate living spaces where people can come together to cook, kitchens, do group activities, those sorts of things. So when I say looking beyond housing response, really what the model sought to do is provide young people with access to opportunities that enable them to not just to survive but to flourish, and that's going back to that capabilities link that Joseph talked about. And education, as the name suggests, is placed really at the centre of tackling homelessness. So when they were being developed, we looked at Foyers in the context of a problem which was that almost 4,000 young Victorians were experiencing homelessness on any given night, and over 50% of those were not in education or employment. However, homelessness, housing and – homelessness and housing policy and the service system were not connected to mainstream education and employment policy or services. So service designers are largely focused around housing first and then as Joseph mentioned, support focused on sort of addressing those problems rather than building capability and capacity. And this really wasn't a fit-for-purpose response for young people in particular. So the design of the model was based around the ambition of reforming the homelessness service system program and policy landscape to improve education and employment outcomes for young people. So education and employment are critical to the life chance of any young person, and so at its centre the model put a partnership with education as one of the key kind of platforms. So the Education First Models are built on TAFE land and they're designed around sort of a student-style accommodation. They formalise the relationships between housing and education, and in doing so have that shared accountability. Young people are identified as students and have their first meeting around access with TAFE rather than with the housing provider. They're also enrolled in a purpose design credited certificate that gives them formal status as students and helps set out a series of goals that they want to progress during their time in Foyer rather than a series of problems that they want to address. The relationship with TAFE also just provides a housing solution that uses existing public infrastructure and links people into this mainstream setting rather than into a sort of welfare setting. And accommodation and personal support then are provided as a means to achieving the education and employment outcomes for young people. Young people need to be willing to participate in education or training to be accepted into Foyer and they get up to two years' accommodation while they're participating in education, and a range of other services – education is at the centre, but young people are supported to set goals across six key service offers that are deemed essential for transition to independence. So that's education, employment, health and wellbeing, housing and living skills, social connections and civic participation. And so the model also prioritises mainstream partnerships. So I talked about education, but also with business, government services, philanthropy and community to ensure that young people have access to a range of opportunities, resources and networks that will enable them to achieve their goals in each of those areas. So it's about making those connections that young people are able to take into and beyond their time in Foyer. So this is bringing back to this capabilities approach, which is delivered in their Education First model through advantage thinking. And it provides a framework for operationalising a capabilities approach, and exposing people to those wider networks and instilling them the concepts of equality, empowerment and focusing on social capital and citizenship, enabling young people to be and do what they have reason to value and what they want to do, rather than sort of limiting that. So those partnerships and through their certificate enable people to sort of experience a whole range of things that they can take with them beyond Foyer. And I guess – that's just a really brief snapshot of the model, but what the model has been able to do in terms of a systemic change, apart from bringing that education housing system together, is also really about how this model can work in other services systems, and Anita will talk about this a bit later as well, but the capabilities and advantage seeking approach have been used in out-of-home care, leaving care sectors, justice and employment. It's also worked to provide a housing solution and as Joseph mentioned briefly, in Tasmania, an expansion model to Tasmania, but also in how to design a broader service system. And also the expansion of the Education First model which is based on evidence about how it works, and I'll hand back to Joseph to talk about that evidence.

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: Great. Thank you very much, Emma. So as Emma mentioned, it is an evidence-based model. We were really fortunate – the research team was to conduct a unique longitudinal study that hadn't really been done before, and so we were able to follow students – former students up to two points: after they finished at Foyer, six months after and 12 months after. We also had two other studies that we were running alongside that. The other was an implementation study, so what works for whom and under what circumstances, so what generated those outcomes that we saw and also an independent financial study. And both of those we can send links to after this webinar. What we found, this is the main headline: 85% of students in work or education in the year after leaving the Education First Youth Foyer, and digging a little bit deeper into those findings, what this chart shows are sustained improvements in education housing and employment a year after students leave. So in education we see a jump in educational attainment a year after, three quarters have at least year 12 or equivalent qualifications, employment pretty much doubles. Housing we see improved capability to accessing and maintaining independent and decent housing. And what isn't on this chart are similar improvements in physical and mental health. And I think really these findings are remarkable for three reasons. Firstly, as I mentioned, it shows sustained impact over a period of time, the first longitudinal study to show that. Secondly it's remarkable because most of the young people participating in the study, 85% of them did so at a time when the model was still being established, so we're not really seeing the impacts of the full model through this data. And thirdly it's remarkable considering young people's backgrounds coming into the Education First Youth Foyer model. So what we see here is that about three quarters of young people came in having experienced state or supported care, that includes out of home care, crisis accommodation and traditional housing. The majority had unstable housing. They didn't feel safe in a lot of that housing. So while yes there is solution criteria to entering Foyer, many young people who came in were struggling to maintain adequate and secure housing, and as I mentioned, had those experiences of state or supported care. And others were coming from family home situations where they were experiencing some form of abuse. So when we're considering the positive outcomes, it really I think does speak to the transformative impact of the model. So how do we get these positive outcomes? Well at the heart of the Education First model is the capabilities approach. And this is a theory that was developed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum and they really wanted to understand disadvantage and poverty as multidimensional, and how poverty and disadvantage were held in place by unequal relations of power that limits people's capabilities. So Deb Batterham did some work in this and she speaks about homelessness as being a form of capability deprivation. So at the Brotherhood of St Laurence we focus on building capabilities and we think it takes more than just providing access to resources. What the model does is it does that enabling work of converting those resources, whether it's access to networks, mentoring, training, job opportunities, converting those kind of resources in to a set of functional capabilities. So the capabilities approach then as we practice it in the model is a way of breaking that crisis-driven approach to youth homelessness. As Emma mentioned, it's built into the model. We work across multiple dimensions across those six service offers. There's a focus on mainstream opportunities and there's also a heavy focus on relational work, converting young people's internal talents by matching them with external opportunities. And Anita and Brea will be talking about this very shortly. But just to kind of wrap up this part of the webinar, what we found is that young people experiencing homelessness were able to sustain positive outcomes because we had a model that was a very intentional in how it employed the capabilities approach. It routinely expanded young people's freedoms, and that's really at the heart of the Education First model. But to really give an idea of what this looks like in terms of practice, I want to hand over now to Anita and she'll be talking with Brea as well about what the capabilities approach looks like in terms of advantage thinking and that kind of practice. So over to you, Anita.

ANITA MCCURDY: Hi, everyone. Hi, this is Brea behind me.


ANITA MCCURDY: We'll just do an acknowledgement to the land that we're sitting on today, Yorta Yorta country. we'd like to pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. The Yorta Yorta people are a river people and they traditionally live in the area surrounding junction of Goulburn and Murray Rivers and through the Northeast Victoria which is where we are. If you ever get out of your home again if you're in lock down, and you get a chance to come to Shepparton, then come and check out our arty points of interest which highlight a lot of the extensive aboriginal history in and around our area. My name's Anita McCurdy and I am the senior manager of the Education First Youth Foyer and better futures program at Berry Street. This is Brea behind me, so we've got the party out the back and business out the front. So she was dying for me to say that. So hi, everyone. My position has got a long title and it's a pretty big role at times, but it's also my dream job. And I want to sort of quickly explain why, but I started my working days in out-of-home care, especially as a foster care worker, and then moved into – into the first intensive case management team when Berry Street come to Shepparton many moons ago. I also worked with a number of teenagers, which is not always easy because the focus wasn't a lot on this age group. And may community services didn't always want to focus on them. It was a lot about prevention at the time with the younger cohort. So much of the work was around referrals to counselling, addressing their deficit teenage behaviours, supporting the carers and residential workers more than the young person just to keep placements together. Cut and pasting case plans and reviews and then referring out just before they turn 18 and hoping for the best. From here, I landed a job, still with teenagers – I love to hang out with them – at the local crisis refuge, which the system again is a difficult space again as well, because it's just crisis, it's a six-week stay. And much of the focus for any of the homelessness services was attempting to look at strengths with young people, set up some goals to address their deficits again and explore options to find someone stable to live. And these were usually burn out most of the time. In addition to this, we were time poor, limited resources to offer opportunities other than working with the open door housing agency and in the hope of accessing some limited housing options at the time. So the next career move was to go to Beyond Housing, which was the actually open door, which showed me that sheer volume of young people and single adults and families that were all looking for housing and all at risk of homelessness. And what become further apparent to me was there was still nothing available in the short term for young people. And accessing private rental was just way out of reach. So starting at the Foyer five years ago with a model already tested in the city and as Emma and Joseph have talked about. So it was pretty exciting. It was inspiring to watch the two models down there and at last the tide was changing for us here in Shepparton and for young people particularly. For one, there was another 40 beds in the area and they can stay up to two years. Focus change to coaching, not case managing, as it is now the young person coming into the team. And even more importantly, the team with the coaches, which as we know in sport, they're also accountable to this deal and providing every opportunity possible to enhance skill development and social capital. We'll note the developing independence certificate. It's amazing. Emma's touched on that too and it's supported building the culture of networks and opportunities during their stay at Foyer. And it's surrounded with six service offers perfectly. So within the team we had champions for each of these services offers as well, and along with that we have a transition worker. But also it extends opportunities into employment and networks in the community and private rental, civic participation in the community as well. An example that I like to brag about is that we had fundraising nights every year once a year annually now - we didn't get to do it last year but we're hoping for this year – where young people hosted, cooked and served with support from a local restaurant and have raised thousands of dollars for Relay for Life and our local hospital. We're ticking lots of our service offer boxes there, as well as showing off our program to the community. So five years on, which was this month, happy birthday to us.

BREA DORSETT: Happy birthday. Yay.

ANITA MCCURDY: Yay. We've had 190 young people come through the Foyer, which is amazing, and so I invite you to follow our social media page. I need to give that a plug. We are on Facebook and Instagram. And that just shows some of our links that we do internally with other programs in Berry Street, like Ls to Ps and to externally building up our networks, for example, holding industry nights and business brekkies, supporting local restaurants who give back as well, which is nice and yummy for the students, through to philanthropic links. With our local Soroptimist group for example, a great support of ours and given us money for education costs for a lot of our students, which is great. And just quickly lastly, our 18 month I Adopt a Better Futures program, which is an old revamp – well sorry, it's a revamp of the old leaving care service that some of you may remember. BSL had already rolled out advantage thinking training to all the initiatives, so it made sense for us to start to oversee that, and myself to oversee it. But I could inject what I learnt from the Foyer into the Better Futures team. And now we can provide a whole gamut of services offered in Foyer to our out-of-home care young people, and also provided an easier pathway from those transitioning from care into the Foyer as well, and making that an aspirational move to here. As we know, our state care young people carry a load of family and systematic trauma, and their trajectory is often to be service reliant with an ongoing battle to get stable housing at all. So the model is way forward to counteract the traditional way I was speaking about above. And the three points of things that make it even more exciting for Better Futures is we already were doing the developing certificate in out-of-home care space for a couple of years prior to me picking up the Better Futures, and also a lot of the planning that's done in the certificate now, the young people take to their care team sometimes and you can imagine that's pretty powerful stuff, the young people telling the department what they would like. So there's no cut and pasting there, which is awesome. Better Futures has been funded a community connector. There's a lot of focus in establishing and maintaining our local connections. Again, capacity building there in the community which is amazing for our young people. Community connector is key to building the frontline practice and supporting young people leaving care to be resourced as much as possible for their transition to independence. And I just have also advocated for an aboriginal consultant and we've had for over 12 months now, which is key to supporting our aboriginal young people that are highly represented in out-of-home care. And the relational and cultural focus that had been integrated since that establishment of this position has been crucial in strong advocacy, formulating individual transitional plans and linking to culturally-appropriate resources and family, which has been amazing. So same model for the two different cohorts and both of them contextual approach to keep the young person in the centre, along with campaigning community investment to young people. And it's evident that we are now getting things right, so please again check our Facebook page to see all that stuff. And now it's Brea time. Brilliant Brea time. Brea has lived with us at the Foyer since a couple of years ago.

BREA DORSETT: Yeah, time flies.

ANITA MCCURDY: Time is flying and if the people that were here back in the day would remember Brea being shy little Brea.

BREA DORSETT: So shy, yeah.

ANITA MCCURDY: So shy, but amazing how far you've come from there. So we just want to talk a bit about how – you've had a launch pad pretty much from here and yeah. So would you like to just share a bit about – with us all about how you came to live at the Foyer and yeah, how you heard about the Foyer as well?

BREA DORSETT: Absolutely. So I'm an only child and I've come from a bit of a broken background, broken family, where there was a bit of alcohol abuse within the home. From that, it's left a bit of trauma and yeah, a few obstacles I have to deal with that resulted in me leaving home quite young. I was in year 12 VCE still studying when I found myself couch surfing for two months. So it was a stressful year within itself, let alone that as well. So yeah, two months of couch surfing. I finally found out about the Foyer through one of my friends at school, and she said that she was living here and I should definitely look into it. Just as you touched on about me being shy, when I came for my – I applied, and I came for an interview here. I had a friend accompany me and she made it for over an hour, because I was just too shy to bring myself here. And even when I was living here, I just quickly brushed past the office, “Hi, everyone.” I'd go straight back to my room and I felt so anxious expressing myself to the communal areas. So yeah, I was very timid and withdrawn with everything I had gone through.

ANITA MCCURDY: You were doing year 12 at the time too, so that was a pretty stressful year.

BREA DORSETT: So stressful.

ANITA MCCURDY: And we have a few year 12 come in. Yeah, particularly at the moment, COVID too has been huge but for you back then it was a total new ball game coming in here, wasn't I?


ANITA MCCURDY: And so can you talk about what live was like? I know you talked about the times you were anxious, but your worker was Reuben?


ANITA MCCURDY: And what the best thing is about that relationship or living here was? So him being youth development coach and yeah, also the DI. I think you want to talk about both of those sort of together, yeah.

BREA DORSETT: Yeah. Yep for sure. So I think what I really took away from the Foyer the most was just the support of the staff. So coming in, having a safe place that I could call home and then having staff that were present in a coaching support that felt like family. I didn't feel judged for where I had come from. I felt empowered to step away from a disadvantaged background but move forward into a more advantaged future. It doesn't sort of matter where I'm from. And with that as well, if I compared my journey to the other 40 students that lived here, I still felt validated and I think that's very important. So I was heard and listened and supported by the staff. So Reuben, such a gem. We were partnered up really well, because my passion lies within the fitness industry and he's also a personal trainer. So he coached me through the DI, which was great. The DI is the certificate in developing independence, which has been touched on, and there's the six service offers in there. So I got to learn these skills that I wasn't fortunate enough to learn at home and it wasn't taught in school either. So cooking, budgeting, social networking and volunteering, and just all of these really important skills that set you up for success. So when I started the DI and I ranked myself, you could see I had a lot to learn. And then by the end of my time here at the Foyer and with Reuben's coaching and help, I just skyrocketed and yeah, done so well. And having Reuben there to just pick his brain once I finished year 12, he was able to help me with the personal training courses for myself and yeah, just helped me pave my future, yeah.

ANITA MCCURDY: That's really great, like it's a great match up, you two. Pretty spot on. And just being able to see where you're at now and I want to do two things. One is around your Insta page now, because this is where we saw you and can see the new – not new because it's always you because yeah. But the confident Brea and how you contribute that back to here. Because you often talk about that and how grateful you are to the Foyer.

BREA DORSETT: Yes, I do. So I – as I mentioned was super withdrawn and I struggled with anxiety for years. So when I left Foyer, I still – I'd come such a long way and I was empowered and learnt so much, but I was still struggling and my self-esteem, being as part of the fitness industry and the generation I guess is overexposed to social media, like within myself I just felt a little bit worthless still and struggled with my mental health. I moved. I was accepted into university and moved down to Geelong, and I started my first job at an all-women's gym, which was really exciting, as a receptionist. So a key part of being a receptionist was picking up phones and it it took me three weeks to be able to pick up a phone, because I was just so scared. And then flash forward, I'm back in Shepparton and I was managing two gyms by the age of 21, so yeah.

Female 3: Thats awesome, so good

BREA DORSETT: Definitely. I think coming from I guess a bit of a broken family with some damaged values and again, my self-worth and self-esteem, was a bit damaged. I think I really found a love for self-love and self-care. So just because you've come from a home where love wasn't present or self-care wasn't present doesn't mean that I'm then not able to love myself or look after myself. I don't have to wait for someone to do that for me. I can do that for myself. And it didn't just happen overnight. It was little things I started implementing into my routine. I really had to shift my habits and mindset, a bit of cognitive behaviour therapy as well, to really just get comfort. And then yeah, the Foyer – still were following my social media and so -

ANITA MCCURDY: Yeah, and talk about - yeah.

BREA DORSETT: Yeah, and saw me basically like, “Hang on, is this still Brea?” I was so shy to just radiating with confidence and I've become well-known in the Shepparton area as an advocate for self-love and body positivity, which is awesome. So I returned back to the Foyer, which is so exciting. They can't get enough of me.

ANITA MCCURDY: We can't. We can't.

BREA DORSETT: I'm not leaving. No, it's really good. I've developed a three-month program where I've been again coaching and working alongside the students here just on self-love and self-care, and I guess my journey – I've been in their shoes so they resonate with me, because I'm only 22 and I've lived here, so I think it's really awesome to – yeah.

ANITA MCCURDY: Amazing, and I know all the students absolutely love when you come in and to tell you the truth – and you know, we don't tell others – we do get big numbers for yours, so it's great that they're all responding and lots of them talk about how you're a mentor to them, and so it's great to hear that, which is good. I think we may be handing over now. I can ask another question, but I'm not sure if I should go hunting there

WILL DOUGLAS: Yeah, I might jump back in there. thank you so much, both of you. Brea, it's been such a privilege to hear about your journey and first-hand what is possible through a capabilities approach. I think you're living proof to that and you should be really proud, so thank you for joining us. Joseph and Emma, if I can invite you guys both back online, and I love the slide that you had on systemic change and I thought it really illustrated the role that each of us can play in supporting young people experiencing housing stress. When we talk about systemic issues, it can be so easy to focus on the system and forget that we're actually part of the system and that the ideas and approach that we bring to our own work, whether we're frontline practitioners or working in policy or just researchers like me, that approach that we bring is really going to affect larger social change overall. On that note, I might move over to the audience Q and A. This first question I'll throw out to all of you. And the question is the professionals joining us today who don't have access to Education First Youth Foyers, what is something they can take away from today's presentation?

ANITA MCCURDY: If you want me to jump in, I can.

WILL DOUGLAS: First in, best dressed.

ANITA MCCURDY: I just think practically the way that we speak about young people now, and as I said about my quick snapshot of a journey there, but being able to really talk about young people differently and providing opportunities can happen in any service. I know that we've got this massive building and it's great. There's beds. It's 24/7 and all that sort of stuff, but with care round the clock is amazing. We want to build lots of Foyers, but that's another story, but it's about really how we as workers listen non-judgmentally and actually coach rather than manage, and I think they're those key things that I'm seeing the difference in teams and can really flip that over, and I think that can happen in any agency.

BREA DORSETT: Definitely. Really validating young people and empowering them with I guess not their barriers or their past, but enabling them to move forward, for sure. Yep.

EMMA CULL: Yeah and I'll just add to that I guess. I totally agree with that and we have seen the model applied in a range of other systems, Anita. It's talked about sort of the transitioning from care, also in employment. So I think that's – and justice setting. So it really round that practice, but I guess the other point is campaign is a really key part of advantaged thinking approach and it's about how we work with young people and how we transform systems, and there is a campaign around more Foyers across Australia, so not just the Education First youth model but – so there are a number of Foyers across Australia and there's a campaign for led by Foyer Foundation around more Foyers, so I think the aim is 30 Foyers by 2030, and we continue to sort of use the evidence and use great stories like Brea's to help campaign for that.

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: Yeah, I don't have a whole lot to add to that. I think the focus on the campaign, there are many different points of advocacy to join up with. In terms of practice, I think it is really important to shift and to have a look at these different ways of approaching that relationship with young people. But I think it also needs to be put in the context of systemic change. There's obviously incentives for why we keep doing things the same way and why it's really hard to shift practice. But the great thing about I think this model is that it's really well-documented. We're not – we don't really hold onto our IP around this. we're very open with the model. We share how we do it. We share the evidence on what makes it work well. So I think there's a lot there for people to get stuck into, regardless of where you sit in relation to some of these systems.

WILL DOUGLAS: Joseph I might keep going with you. What level of independence or capabilities do young people need when they're entering the program? And to what extent can they access internal – sorry, intensive supports to assist them, to access and maintain the program?

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: Yeah, so there's a lot of work that's done in terms of working with young people so that they're ready to enter the Foyer, and there is a selection criterion where again, this is not just sort of yes or no kind of application. There's a lot of work done with that young person. So there has to be that willingness to engage with education, to sign up the deal with is literally something that young people sign onto where they will participate in the different service offers and in return for that, the model and the workers will work to create opportunities for that young person. So there is that selection criteria in terms of there are some questions around managed challenges. So there is some scope to work with young people and refer young people to continue to manage those challenges. But I might hand over to Emma or Anita to sort of talk through how that works in practice.

EMMA CULL: Yeah, and I mean Anita you're probably bets to talk about this, but I think the key there is sort of that – it's not a sort of level of capability that young people need, but some motivation, so a willingness to participate in education. Brea talked about already being enrolled in year 12, so for her, continuing that. For other young people, you don't have to be enrolled. You just have to aspire to participate and to have a level of motivation to participate across those areas that we talk about, those six areas. But you will be willing to set goals and participate in these things. But yeah Anita, you might want to talk about the process more, and that – it's about readiness and willingness to be ready, isn't it, rather than having met criteria.

ANITA MCCURDY: Exactly, and we – our philosophy's never say no. We don't say no. We always give feedback around their readiness. So we even break it down to the six service offers and give feedback about each of those service offers about what – to show what things they can be doing. A lot of people don't know the young person, for example, in education, because they haven't come back. So we might go – there's a few other things haven't been linked into or there's different things that aren't happening there. We're just not sure if their motivation and career pathway is there yet, or education pathway. And that might only be a couple weeks to just go have a link up with some more resources, go across to go TAFE and do some – to assess whether the voyager I think it's called, and just those little things to then get their motivation to the point that we go, “Oh yeah, that looks like they're wanting to come in.” But a lot of our young people do come straight in or – not straight in, but could be pretty much saying, “Yeah, they're right to come in.” And a lot of the services now actually know what sort of things that need to happen for that young person to come in as well. So yeah, there is an eligibility. It doesn't suit everyone. Brea and I were talking about that before, and it's not a – it's never a no around being aspirational for those young people I think. And that's what we like to say to the services. Let's be aspirational. Bring them in. Show them what we do. And even come in to some of our workshops and different things that we do around there, just so they get a feel of what it actually is. Because it is a fairly big commitment. We call it The Deal. It is pretty big. They've got to get themselves organised. They've got to be routine, all that sort of stuff. Well they don't have to, but they are learning all that I suppose. So we obviously do that support with them, but it's a big change to have a whole room pretty much small apartment to yourself that you've also got to look after, and the going to education, and that's quite overwhelming for some young people, and after five years we sort of work out what we can be looking for for readiness I suppose in those areas.

WILL DOUGLAS: Okay. Brea, did you have anything you wanted to add maybe about your personal experience of the supports that you received through the Foyer program?

BREA DORSETT: Yeah, I received an abundance of support. As soon as I had my initial interview I just felt supported and listened. Moving through, Matt connected me with a mentor in the area who is a local gym owner who was able to again help me work through the fitness industry and make sure that's where I wanted to move into once I finished year 12 VCE. Again, Rubin helping me with my DI, and even once I moved on and I lived in Geelong for a while, I still reached out to the Foyer and they continued to support me. Matt connected me with a mentor in Geelong, so as opposed to me going to another Foyer, I was still able to access resources and have a mentor there for me in Geelong. So yeah.

WILL DOUGLAS: Great. Thank you for that. Anita, I might throw this one to you first, just because you were talking about the aboriginal consultant that you've been working with through the Foyer program. The question is how does the Foyer model customise its support to those who identify as LGBTIQ+ or maybe have a disability or from a multicultural background?

Anita McCurdy: Yeah, so we have lots of .. yeah, well I can probably answer it overall, and hopefully not miss anything or take away the value of actually linking young people to those services. And we have really good resources in Shepparton. Again, regionally all of those areas have got great agencies and great – well again, mentors and people that have come in and connect with them here or we can link them to groups that are happening. With LGBTI, we have lots of events that happen and we're involved in a lot of that as a Foyer as a whole, for example, but then we have groups and people come in and actually have groups here. We have lots of training for staff and they've – yeah, lots of I suppose support in those areas that it's well covered I think. And again, the transparency of the worker and the team, we do go through a lot of those things through the DI when they come in as well, what areas they're interested and things like that. So our aboriginal – sorry, someone's calling me now – our aboriginal consultant was someone we picked up last year through the Better Futures program, because in out-of-home care, my experience has always been you just don't have great links in – we have Rumbalara and they can come in, but they're really busy with their stuff to. We go to their events. We do that. But to actually have an aboriginal worker and consultant in here – in our space who comes to the Foyer when needs to come, he works with the other programs as well, but he actually sits under Better Futures, which is amazing for us. Because doing the leaving care plans, he's the greatest advocator for them. And particularly around family and keep those links to family, which we know for a fact that that gets cut off in out-of-home care a lot of the time. So him coming in that space when they are 16, and even in residential care, so he knows a lot of the young ones coming through, so it's just helped us twofold, I suppose. It's great.

WILL DOUGLAS: That's great, Anita. Thank you. Joseph and Emma, did you have anything you wanted to add on that one? You don't have to.

EMMA CULL: I guess just saying that as I just really believe in what Anita said, that connection built into the model. So social connection, helping people identify who are the key people in their life, and the model is about transition. It's not trying to replace – like it's not sort of a little bubble that people go into and then you kick them out at the end and hope that they're doing – it's about how you build those connections that they can take into their life as they go forward. So it's not a closed service. It's all about the mainstream partnerships and connections in the community. So if that's with an LGBTIQ community, if that's with an aboriginal and Torres strait islander community, if it's with a multicultural sort of – various multicultural communities or activities or events or religious - that's a really strong part of the model, getting people to identify who the people that are important to them are and setting them up to connect with them, because it's a whole community. It's not just about family or just – which is really important and Foyer becomes a family as well, but who are all those other people that will help you as anyone in your life move forward.

WILL DOUGLAS: Thank you. Joseph, did you have anything else to add on that one?

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: No, not a whole lot, just can agree with all of that. I'll just add as well that as part of the model, when it comes to identity, that's also wrapped up with the deal. So the students who live at the Foyer also contributing to those groups and the kind of work that they want to do. So I know that in some of the Foyers, some LGBTQI+ groups have formed to support one another and to discuss how to support that identity within the Education First Youth Foyer and within their community. So a lot of that also sits with the young people themselves and sort of being active participants in what they need and what they can get out of the Foyer and the community.

WILL DOUGLAS: Right. So the next question we have is how can a capabilities approach be used with younger children who might not have been homeless or even at a TAFE-ready age? So who wants to start off with this one?

EMMA CULL: I'm happy to have a go at that. Yeah, I think the capabilities approach really can be used across the life spectrum. So I know at Brotherhood of St Laurence we use it from sort of children's programs through to aged care, and it's really about putting young people or children or families or whoever at the centre and really starting from where they're at and then connecting them into the resources that they need. So I guess it depends on age that you're talking about, but they can be used with families and helping people sort of identify kind of what their needs are. And as Joseph talked about before, it's not just about building capabilities of an individual, but buildings capabilities of a person within a community. So if it's a very young child, it's obviously with a family as well, and connecting them into those mainstream supports. I don't know if Joseph might have more to add.

JOSEPH BORLAGDAN: Totally right. The only other thing would be one of the really exciting parts that's been done in other parts of the world is how they promote the voice of young people, and I'm talking here really about children. So there are examples in the UK where they have children mayors, so it's through the lens and perspective of children what needs to happen in that town. And I think a capabilities approach is quite similar when you're trying to identify what are the goals and aspirations of the person in front of you. And as I mentioned, that cuts across life course. That's not just young people. We're also talking about older people in nursing homes. We're talking about children. When you work with them, you can uncover what those aspirations are and why it's meaningful to them, and that's really the starting point.

WILL DOUGLAS: That's fantastic. Thank you. The last couple of questions I have, they're more just about how people can get involved really. I think people love the Foyer idea. So how can youth crisis facilities collaborate with Foyers and best support young people to be accepted into a Foyer?

ANITA MCCURDY: I can answer that one if you like, and actually doing it locally as we speak. And since we opened really, because – as I talked about, when I was in the refuge doing refuge work, it was very crisis-driven. So we were – when I got into Foyer, it was like we – this is our – these are the young people we want in here. These are the young people that we need to be supporting the most, because they've usually burnt most of their options out, or it's happened that way that they've just got no one else to go to. So it's about bringing them into here. So we work really closely with refuge. And again, it's giving feedback about the readiness and young people and – but actually inviting them in to our activities. Like we have lots of regular things that happen here. There's Sunday night dinners. There's movie nights. There's different things that happen. And we've even had camps where we've invited young people to them. With the out-of-home care space, we had a young person go before he moved in with the camp with the young people. I think that's similar to Refuge; it's offering for them to come in and experience – or even do events with us out in the community and be part of that as well. So the offerings are always there to then work with the Refuge staff and team around what we can do together to make it I suppose sustainable. So are they ready? What can we do? Yes, they've been going to school for a while. This is these things that we're ticking the box to go, “Yep right, let's bring them in now.” So we've worked closely with them about that.

WILL DOUGLAS: Great. Emma and Joseph, did you have anything you wanted to add on that one?

EMMA CULL: No I think that's great Anita.

WILL DOUGLAS: All right. Well I'll follow on with a kind of related question and I think this is our last question. Where do Foyers take most of their referrals from and is there a wait list?

EMMA CULL: Anita, you can -

ANITA MCCURDY: The wait list it's like – I don't do wait lists very well. Because – and I think it's wait list is that again, traditional way of thinking when we now talk about what are – who's ready at the time, and we have a spare room to bring in. And we've had young people that we've had to fast track because their risks are high out in the community, but they're ready. And so they're the ones that are going to come in quicker than those that might still be at someone's house on the couch, but they know that they're coming in. They know it's going to happen. We've got a couple of others. So we don't have wait lists. There might be someone waiting for a few weeks, and to tell you the truth, our turnover's really good in Shepp. It always has been. We're usually one or two out, one or two in. There's not usually much wait. And when people say, “Do you think you've got enough beds for our region?” I say yes, because it's pretty much in and out. We don't have a lot of people that are waiting long amounts of time. And if there are ones that actually need somewhere, we do have refuge that we work with again if we need to. But again, it's who's ready and risk really that we balance for those coming in,

EMMA CULL: And where they come from I think is – Anita, you'd be able to speak to Shepparton specifically, but I think it's a really broad range of areas. So people can self-refer into the Foyer. You can fill in a readiness form. You can – through TAFE as Brea mentioned before, through school, through networks. But Foyers are very much situated in their community. So it's about sort of -

ANITA MCCURDY: Yeah, sorry. I didn't answer that part of the question, but I was going to say we – with the referrals we have had and run a self-referrals at times, like we actually have young people coming in saying we've heard about it. And that's a bit of a difference from other agencies obviously. They usually have someone coming in that they – and we thought it's great because we're in the middle of the CBD and people know that it's a place that they can actually comfortably come in and ask. So having word of mouth among the young people too is great, but yeah, Emma's right. It's like GOTAFE, schools are big, because the kids are actually in education and at risk of dropping out, but we do get a lot of our main referrals. And Refuge obviously too. And homelessness service. So yeah, it's – yeah, we haven't tallied it up. We have talked about doing that one day, but I think it's pretty various around how to use it. It's yeah, lots of different places.

WILL DOUGLAS: Okay. Thank you all again for joining us today, and we really look forward to seeing you at our next webinar. Thank you to our presenters today. It was such a privilege to hear about the work you're doing in Youth Foyers, and I can't wait to see what happens with this model in the future. So thank you all and have a great week.




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The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

1. Starting a future that means something to me  
Supporting young people to reduce housing stress

Dr Joseph Borlagdan, @borlagdanj Research and Policy Centre  
Emma Cull, Community Programs  
Brotherhood of St Laurence  
July 2021

2. Snapping back

Alt text: computer rendered skull flexing forward and back from the neck

3. Shedding light on structural faults

Alt text: Light shining through crack

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.

Managing problems → building capacity

4. Systemic change 

Systemic change is a form of applied social policy that intentionally disrupts the systems that hold inequality and disadvantage in place.  

It transforms ways of thinking, institutional structures and practices so that populations can grow their capability to pursue lives they value.

  • People and community
  • Frontline practice reform
  • Service sector reform
  • Policy Change
  • Social change

Multilayered - Works across multiple systems and dimensions of practice at the same time

Multilevel - Redistributes power by working from the ‘third space’ in-between high level authority and local community.

Multifocal - Long term ambition, with short to medium term in sight

5. Education First Youth Foyer (EFYF) a model of systemic change

  • Distinctive model 
    • prioritising education through TAFE-Foyer partnership
    • Advantaged Thinking
    • Mainstream opportunities through six service offers
  • Systemic impacts
    • Expanding EFY Foyers
    • Tasmania Housing Connect 2.0 service system reform
    • Foyer Foundation 

Holmesglen TAFE, Glen Waverley - open May 2013

Kangan TAFE, Broadmeadows - June 2014 

GO TAFE, Shepparton - August 2016

6. Evidence-based model

  • Unique Longitudinal Study
    • Outcomes study 6 & 12 month follow up
    • Implementation study what works for whom, when
    • Financial study cost-benefits 

7. EFYF model works

85% of students are in work or education in the year after leaving EFY Foyer

8. Sustained improvements

Alt text: Bar graph showing the % of participants: education, employed, housing.

  • Completed Year 12. Cert III or higher
    • Entry - 42
    • Twelve months post-exit - 75%
  • Employed
    • Entry - 19%
    • Twelve months post-exit - 36%
  • Living in own place
    • Entry - 7%
    • Twelve months post-exit - 51%
  • Living in crisis accommodation, treatment of detention centre or sleeping rough
    • Entry - 32%
    • Twelve months post-exit - 2%

9. Cohort prior to EFYF

  • Homeless experience
    • 74% had experience in state custody or supported care
  • Housing instability
    • 57% lived in three or more places in the year prior to Foyer
  • Lack of safety
    • 33% did not feel safe in their home
  • Lack of amenities
    • 18% lived in places that did not meet community housing standards

10. Capabilities Approach  
converting resources to live a good life

Related resources

Related resources

  • Moving from deficit to advantage thinking 
    This resource explores the ideas and principles behind Education First Youth Foyers and other capabilities approaches.
  • Starting a future that means something to you 
    This report by Brotherhood of St Laurence explores the outcomes from a longitudinal study of Education First Youth Foyers.
  • How foyers work 
    This Foyer Foundation page explores the history and theory behind Foyers, including an overview of Advantaged Thinking.
  • Foyer locations and referrals 
    This Foyer Foundation page includes a map of where Foyers are located in Australia, the eligibility criteria and the referral process.
  • Intervening early to prevent youth homelessness: Lessons from the Geelong Project 
    This CFCA webinar discussed youth homelessness and what needs to be done to address the problem, with a particular focus on early intervention.
  • Early intervention strategies to prevent youth homelessness 
    This CFCA short article explores how early interventions operate to prevent youth homelessness and outlines the emerging evidence for what works.

Webinar questions and answers

Questions answered during presenter Q&A

To view the presenter Q&A, go to 47:32 in the recording

  1. For professionals joining us today who don’t have access to education first youth foyers for their clients – what is something they can take away from today’s presentation?
  2. What level of independence skills/capabilities do YP need to enter the program? To what extent can they access intensive supports to assist them access and maintain the program?
  3. Are students assisted to seek and receive help so they don’t lose their place in the education due to stress or other challenges?
  4. How does the FOYER model customise it’s support to those who identify as LGBTIQ+, or have a disability, or multicultural background, multifaith background etc?
  5. How can a capabilities approach be used with younger children who might not be homeless or even at TAFE ready age?
  6. How can youth crisis facilities/services collaborate with Foyers and best support young people to be accepted into a Foyer?
  7. Where do Foyers take most referrals from, and is there a wait list


Dr Joseph Borlagdan is a Principal Research Fellow at the Research and Policy Centre, Brotherhood of St Laurence. He leads the Youth Opportunity team that conducts research and evaluation in the areas of youth unemployment, education, leaving care, and homelessness. With his team, he has recently completed the first longitudinal study investigating the effectiveness of the Education First Youth Foyers, an innovative model supporting young people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Joseph is passionate about the role of sociology in addressing social problems and served as the inaugural Applied Sociology portfolio leader on The Australian Sociological Association executive. His work brings together theoretical and practical knowledge to inform systemic change using adaptive methodologies.

Emma Cull is Senior Manager, Youth at the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL). Emma has been involved in leading the development and delivery of a number of youth programs and initiatives across BSL, including playing a key role in the development of the Education First Youth Foyer model and key initiatives in leaving care, education and employment. Emma has worked in the community sector for over a decade and is passionate about working at the nexus of policy, practice and research to inform long-term and systemic solutions to disadvantage.

Anita McCurdy has lived in Shepparton for over 20 years after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, Bendigo, majoring in Psychology and Sociology. During this time, Anita has worked in the not-for-profit community services field where her urge to advocate for young people has grown from her groundwork as a foster care worker to her current role as the first Senior Manager of the Shepparton Education First Youth Foyer and Better Futures Program. Anita has returned to Berry Street after 10 years with experience in a number of leadership roles at the Youth Crisis refuge and Beyond Housing. In these positions, Anita grew her passion for leading teams in building and nurturing workplace culture for successful outcomes. Anita has recently completing a Masters of Social Work and has been a participant of the Fairley Leadership program, where she aspired to build business and community partnerships in the Goulburn Valley that create opportunities to identify, develop and invest in the skills and capabilities of young people.

Brea was exposed to various traumas from family and relationship challenges to school bullying. Amidst this, Brea managed to juggle the stress of VCE and couch surfing for two months. Her couch surfing experience came to an end when she found the Foyer Shepparton, where she received support from staff who became family and a place to call home. Brea says that ‘I do not appreciate the situation, but I appreciate the growth that came from the situation’, and through a substantial process of healing and self-development, Brea has gone from a timid, withdrawn, anxious teenager to a young woman who booms with confidence and radiates warmth.

Brea’s experience ignited her passion for self-love and personal development, which she believes everyone deserves, even if they haven’t had others look after them in the past. Brea has grown in all aspects of her life, from being too anxious to answer a phone, to managing a gym by the age of 21. From being in a dark place struggling with a lack of purpose to stepping into the highest version of herself and loving each breath of air she takes. Brea has become a self-love and self-care advocate in the Greater Shepparton community, featuring on local podcast ‘Gv Talks’. She feels it is her duty to share her knowledge, skills and experience to help others avoid going through the ‘hard yards’ she has. Brea has returned to the Foyer Shepparton, volunteering to coach and mentor young people whose shoes she was once in.