The Youth Advocate Program (YAP) originated in the United States as a family support initiative for juvenile offenders returning to their community after spending time in correctional institutions. Today YAP Inc. is one of the largest non-profit agencies in the United States working with high-risk youth and their families in a strengths based, needs led advocacy model.
Life Without Barriers commenced trialling YAP in Sydney in 2014, with a focus on assisting young people make a successful transition from residential care to leading successful lives in their communities.
These young people have experienced a range of difficulties around their families, peer group relationships, education, behaviour and community involvement.
Relationships between the Advocates and the people they support are developed around the needs and aspirations of each young person. Advocates work intensively with individual young people and their families for up to 6 months, focused on rebuilding relationships and helping them to develop skills to participate in community life.
Transitioning into suitable living arrangements, with or without ‘drop-in’ support, is among assistance that Advocates deliver. Practical assistance for young people and family members can also involve getting a driver’s licence, finding employment, exploring education options, learning how to budget, developing knowledge and confidence to join a community group or re-connecting with the culture.
YAP is being independently evaluated with the good outcomes including:
- improved results in education, and school engagement
- enhanced links to community
- improvements in social behaviour
- family restoration
- transition to independence or semi-independence
21 young people commenced the program. 14 have so far graduated and achieved the goals they set when they entered the program. Five are due to graduate. The two young people who finished the program with partially-met goals, both reported having improved relations with their families.
Fifteen-year-old Justin* has been in foster care since he was 12. When his foster care placement broke down he started living in an Life Without Barriers Residential Service. Justin was matched with an Aboriginal Advocate, who worked closely with the House Manager:
“The Advocate and I are on the same page. We talk to each other. This has helped me to build relationship with Justin's mum because the Advocate brokered the introduction. His mum originally saw me as a bit of a threat. Now though, his mum will talk with me and this benefits Justin.”
The House Manager and the Advocate support each other to support Justin:
“If he has a bad day at school, I feel comfortable calling the Advocate. She talks to him, encourages him, and makes a plan to support him. We include Justin in open discussions. It helps him to feels like he belongs, without having people talking about him.”
Justin's mum is also getting the support she needs from YAP - mental health care, church and a women's group. Justin now sees his family regularly and is working towards restoration with his mum.
Justin is now flourishing and is looking forward to a bright future. He is captain of his AFL footy team and because he’s a talented player he often gets picked to play for teams in other footy associations. Justin goes to a sports high school and has progressed from not attending at all, to being at school every week day.
Our advocates say:
“Our work is very case-by-case. For some young people or their families we source financial management to assist with budgeting, or counselling to manage the changes within their family environments.”
“We hook people up with local social groups through charities or church groups.”
“Helping young people establish a home when they leave care is vital. We've helped young people understand the responsibilities of paying rent and utilities, but more than that, we've help them create a comfortable home. We've certainly seen a lot of young people become more motivated to take up other other opportunities once this vital piece has been established.”