Unfounded assumptions and the abondonment of 'at risk' youth
Oz Child - Children Australia
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of International, Cultural and Community Studies
At a recent New South Wales forum about the future of residential care, various speakers cited what they thought were the key themes that should guide thinking about the development of future residential programs for ‘at risk’ youth. The themes were that these programs must be small, local and, somewhat less confidently, that they should only be used as a ‘last resort’ when all other ways of addressing the care and treatment needs of these young people have been tried. It was also noted that funding for programs should reflect the level of staff expertise required when programs are treatment rather than accommodation focussed, although what this might mean in practice was not explored. These are all themes that are part of any discussion about the future of the residential component of the out-of-home care system. The contention of this paper is that these themes are based on unfounded assumptions. When used in service planning to guide future services these assumptions contribute to the abandonment of ‘at risk’ youth to either no service or services that are less than adequate. The themes are explored by applying them to services in other sectors that also deal with ‘at risk’ youth, namely, health, education and criminal justice. The conclusion is that these themes should be replaced with others that will enable community service organisations to develop more appropriate services for ‘at risk’ youth.