Barnardos Australia is seeking support for our Reconnect Program operating in the Marrickville/Canterbury region of Sydney. Reconnect is an early intervention, homelessness prevention program for young people aged 12 to 18 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Reconnect intervenes to ensure that young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness stay connected to mainstream society by keeping them engaged with family, education, training, work opportunities, stable accommodation and with their local community.
The ‘Early Intervention’ focus of the program helps to prevent these ‘at risk’ young people from sliding into chronic long term homelessness, intergenerational unemployment and alcohol and drug abuse. Strengthening their family and community ties also impacts greatly on ensuring that they don’t enter the Juvenile Justice system which is often a pathway into recidivism and a life of crime and imprisonment in the criminal justice system.
Who Reconnect supports The intended beneficiaries are at-risk young people aged 12-18 years old in the marginalised regions of Canterbury and Marrickville NSW. Both these local government areas [LGA] are characterised by culturally diverse communities with Marrickville having a significant indigenous population whilst the Canterbury area has a notable presence of Syrian and other refugee families settling in the LGA.
The teenagers referred to this program are vulnerable and isolated and experiencing a range of issues including homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy [including disengagement from school and education], breakdown in family relationships, crime and a range of other complex interrelated issues.
The dangers and disadvantage faced by these young people every day are real and serious. Early intervention and prevention is the key to improving their prospects and we work hard to give them the skills, support and education needed to break the cycle into homelessness, poverty and crime.
Where possible we try and connect these young people back with their families but in some instances, these young people find themselves unable to live at home, due to family violence or abuse, financial and personal problems. In these cases, we will try and find these young people alternative living arrangements whether that be with foster carers or our supported independent living units. Most of these young people come from severely disadvantaged backgrounds have limited education and often personal or social problems. They are facing complex and entrenched issues which have led to their exclusion from education and society. They are missing many of the basic life skills that many of us take for granted, and a large part of this program is also about giving these young people the essential life skills and support they need to live independently, as well as addressing the issues they are currently facing through therapy or practical support.
Barnardos supports them to re-engage with education or with the appropriate training needed to enter the workforce so they can begin to build a successful life for themselves.
The support is intensive and delivered through a combination of group work and 1:1 casework. Working with disengaged young people requires workers who have the skills to identify individual issues, to identify individual goals, and who have the networks in the community to access the resources needed to support individual young people. Young people who leave school before year 12 are more likely to find full-time work or continue their education if they have a mentor or case manager to help them when they leave – a transition broker. (Dusseldorp Skills Forum (2004).
Information and advice regarding drug and alcohol, physical, sexual and mental health, housing, family issues and employment.
Assisting families and young people to work through conflict – this is carried out in the family home and/or at the Barnardos centre.
Assisting the young person with finding other living arrangements if they are unable to return to their family – whether this is through foster care or independent living units.
Supporting referrals to link young people and/or their families with other agencies such as a health service, especially if a young person is too intimidated to contact or attend the service themselves.
Building skills, for example, interview skills, developing resume’s, building financial literacy, and strategies for dealing with relationship conflict.
The caseworker will be the main link and advocate for a young person with their parents/carers, school and prospective employers.
Mentoring and counselling around risk-taking behaviours and gang violence and contact with Police and the Juvenile Justice System.
Mentoring the young person through adversity, and acknowledging positive achievement to facilitate sustainable change and growth within the young person.
Reconnect aims to break the cycle of homelessness by providing counselling, group work, mediation and practical support to the whole family.
A referral was received from a local high school in regards to a young female from Sierra Leone named Jenny* aged 16 years. Jenny was attending school but her truancy had increased over the last two terms which led to the referral to the Barnardos Reconnect Program.
Upon entry to the Program, Jenny presented as being homeless and also presented with sexual health, mental health issues and family breakdown. Jenny was living in an overcrowded home with three of her aunts and cousins but had left home to ‘couch surf’ at friend’s houses due to conflict and relationship breakdown within her family.
As a response, the Barnardos Reconnect team worked with State funded ‘link2home’ program to provide Jenny with stable accommodation. It was critical that Jenny was placed in stable accommodation as she was completing her trial HSC exams at the time. Reconnect placed Jenny in a young person’s refuge close to public transport so she could continue to attend school and stay connected to her community and friends.
During Jenny’s placement the Barnardos Reconnect Team addressed her other immediate issues that were presented. Reconnect referred the young person to Youth Block to see a nurse to address sexual health, the young person attended initial and all follow up appointments. The Reconnect team also referred the young person to Headspace to address her mental health issues and receive intensive counselling.
Once the immediate presenting issues were addressed the Reconnect team worked on rebuilding the relationship between the young person and her family. Two members of the Reconnect team were able to work together to open the dialogue between the young person and her birth parents. One member supported the young person and the other the parent during initial communication.
This supported the family to create a communication system that allowed both parties to share their thoughts and feelings respectfully. It became evident that a key to the relationship breakdown was due to miscommunication which led to arguments that escalate. The Reconnect team was able to work with the young person and her family to create conflict resolution strategies and ways to have a constructive conversation. As a result of Reconnect’s intervention and mediation, Jenny is now living back with her birth parents in their family home. This has strengthened her connection to her family, culture and community. The program also provided Jenny with stable accommodation with her own space and a supportive environment to complete her HSC.
Ultimately, Reconnect supported Jenny to successfully strengthen and rebuild her relationship and reconnect her with her family, provide a pathway to health services, access mental health services and increase her school attendance. Jenny is now more aware of the local services that are available for her and has the confidence to access and utilise them. Without Reconnect’s intervention and outcomes achieved Jenny would have ended up homeless and at risk of dropping out of school.
*Names changed to protect privacy