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Giving young people skills to live independently

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A new program giving young people in care the life skills they need to transition smoothly into independent living is now being offered in Whyalla.

The Life Skills Program, which is being delivered from the Department for Child Protection (DCP) Office in Whyalla in collaboration with local service providers, offers support for young people who are in the process of transitioning out of foster or residential care into independent living.

The program was developed by three occupational therapy students on placement from UniSA Ashleigh Hill, Alice O'Connell-Debais and Patrick Wingrove.

DCP Whyalla Manager Jenny Knight said the students ran a nine week pilot project earlier in the year, which laid the groundwork for the program to be established.

Employing community development principles and a primary health care approach, the students aimed to explore the needs of adolescents’ when transitioning into supported independent living and leaving care at the age of 18.

“Our staff identified a need to investigate some of the issues and barriers to young people who are transitioning from life in foster or residential care into independent living,” Jenny said.

“We know that young people in guardianship care, like all young adults, need support to transition to adulthood.

“So we really wanted the students to speak to young people, speak to local service providers and our staff and see what we could do to help make that transition easier.”

As part of the pilot project, a Youth Advisory Group was established for young people in care to discuss the types of supports they need.

Supports included cooking, house maintenance, motivation and self-esteem, budgeting, managing relationships, employment and driving.

The program has partnered with local support services such as headspace, Centrelink and Plaza Youth to provide access to a range of support services including money management, and building self-esteem.

Alice said discussions with the Youth Advisory Group indicated some young people were not confident they had the life skills to be able to live independently.

“Some of the discussions were around having motivation to do everyday things such as going to school, getting support to be able to get their driver’s licence and learning to cook,” she said.

“We are hoping this project will better equip adolescents under guardianship in Whyalla to live independently and feel more supported and confident when transitioning out of care.”

This project highlighted the role occupational therapists can play in community development, and the emerging opportunities for employment in the child protection system.

More importantly, it demonstrated the importance of a community-based approach to transition planning, changing the tone of the conversation on transition-from-care from focusing on the responsibility of the DCP, to recognising existing community connections between services that can provide a holistic support network for adolescents.