December 22, 2020

A collective impact approach to building connections and social capital for young people leaving care

The Brighter Futures Transformation Pilot: Learning for Life through Community Connections (Brighter Futures Pilot) was a two year pilot program which connected young people with a care experience with local community members who could help them build their strengths, explore their passions and achieve their goals.

The Brighter Futures Pilot ended in October 2020, and two  reports have been released detailing the outcomes and findings of the project. OPEN was also fortunate to have Heidi Tucker (CEO of Anchor), Dylan Langley (member of the Youth Advisory Group and Brighter Futures Executive), and Natalia Sopelario (Brighter Futures Community Connector) speak recently on their insights from this project at the OPEN Symposium 2020.

What was the Brighter Futures Transformation Pilot?

The Brighter Futures Pilot began as an initiative of the Outer East Children and Youth Area Partnership (OECYAP) – with Anchor acting as the lead agency.

It was funded by six members of the Out-of-Home-Care Philanthropic Funders Network: Gandel Philanthropy, Sidney Myer Fund, The Ross Trust, Bennelong Foundation, The Jack Brockhoff Foundation and Australian Communities Foundation. This philanthropic funding gave Anchor and their partners the chance to try and test different approaches to their work that would have been difficult under a regular funding model.

The problem

The Brighter Futures Pilot was originally conceived in recognition of a difficulty that many young people face when leaving care – a lack of community connections.

Due to the disruptive experience of being in care, these young people often lack the local networks that other young people develop through adolescence – such as those gained through part time work, or other community participation generally facilitated through family connections. For some young people, nearly all their adult mentorship happens through the statutory system.

As they transition out of this system, it often leaves them with very little in the way of a support network – effecting their prospects in terms of education, employment, and housing, as well as their broader sense of wellbeing and belonging in the community.

The project approach

The Brighter Futures Pilot therefore developed a theory of change based around this idea of community connection – that fostering these connections can improve outcomes for young people leaving care.

The fundamental idea that underpinned the project was that if young people with a care experience feel that they belong in the community and know people who can support them to reach their dreams and aspirations, they will navigate their way to adulthood more successfully.

A detailed theory of change was developed, which aimed for improved outcomes on multiple levels, including:

  • Long-term systemic outcomes
  • Progressive systemic outcomes
  • Service level outcomes

The following theory of change is provided in the Evaluation of the Brighter Futures Transformation Pilot.

The work conducted to achieve these outcomes was divided into four streams:

  • Youth voice

The Brighter Futures Pilot worked to centre the experiences of young people in developing strategies for building community connections. The Youth Ambassadors Group was created to ensure that young people with a care experience actively participated in the design, delivery and decision-making elements of the Pilot.

  • Practice and culture change

This project recognised the need to support practitioners to view young people leaving care differently, by using an advantaged thinking approach to inform ongoing practice and culture change.

  • Community connections

Specific ‘Community Connector’ roles were created to focus on community outreach – looking to generate opportunities and support young people’s community connections to grow and mature over time.

  • Collaborative governance

The Brighter Futures Pilot invested heavily in a governance model that brought government (both state and local) together with service organisations, community groups, young people and carers. This is a collective action model that required active and sustained co-ordination.

The outcomes

While this pilot is now finished, it has demonstrated positive outcomes for the young people, community mentors, and practitioners who have been part of it – though a larger system change was difficult to achieve in only two years.

Just as importantly, the Brighter Futures pilot has also influenced state government approaches to how to better support young people leaving care – particularly the Better Futures program that is now being provided to all care leavers by DHHS.

Key insights from this project

In their presentation on the Brighter Futures Pilot at OPEN Symposium 2020, Heidi Tucker, Dylan Langley and Natalia Sopelario shared a number of key insights from their time working on the project:

  • Young people must be able to use their voices to hold organisations to account

The Brighter Futures Pilot invested heavily in co-design processes with young people who had a care experience. These young people had very clear ideas about what was needed from the project, and the Brighter Futures team needed to make sure that these ideas were always heard (and where possible, acted upon) – even if they were critical of the way organisations were delivering services, or questioned long-held assumptions in the sector.

Being held to account in this way was important to ensure an effective co-design process in which new ideas were encouraged, where young people had a genuine voice and their knowledge of lived experience was valued.

  • Building relationships is key – and takes time and sustained effort

A number of the young people involved in the program had experienced trauma and instability in their young lives, as is often the case for those in out-of-home care. This meant that it was essential for the adult mentors and community connectors to build trust with these young people, which often took sustained effort and time – sometimes many months.

Only when these relationships had been built up over time were the young people able to fully engage with and benefit from the community connections that the Brighter Futures Pilot was building for them.

  • It takes a long time to show change in a complex system

The Brighter Futures Pilot was ambitious in its aim to make systemic improvements to services for young care leavers. While there were a number of positive outcomes observed over the 2 years of the program, it was recognised that system-level change would take much longer.

This is partly because the experiences of young people leaving care are multifaceted, and because they interact with many different parts of the service system. This means that many different services need to implement and embed new ways of working with young people – and this will take time and sustained focus. The recent announcement that the Victorian Government will extend support for those in care to age 21 (including through Better Futures) is a great start, but there is still a long way to go to achieve systemic change.

  • Working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders is challenging, but also vital

The complexity of the systems that support young people leaving care means that many different stakeholders need to be involved in creating change.

In the case of the Brighter Futures Pilot, this often involved collaborative working between state government, local government, service organisations, carers, and young people. Wherever possible, the program aimed to have all of these voices ‘in the room’, working together for their common goal. While this made the governance of the Brighter Futures Pilot highly complex, this complexity was seen as essential to ensuring the project was truly collaborative, and responded to the needs and concerns of all those involved with improving outcomes for young care leavers.

  • We need broader community education about children in care

Over the course of the Brighter Futures Pilot, community members were very willing to act as mentors for young people across a wide range of professions. But it was also noted that many of these community members had very little initial understanding of the kinds of challenges young people in care face, and how they could assist them.

This suggests that the broader community needs more education about children in care. As community members are so often generous with their time and willing to help when they understand the role they can play, this broader education would create many positive opportunities.

Further resources

More detail about the Brighter Futures Pilot can be found in two recently published reports:

We will also be posting the video presentation from Brighter Futures at the OPEN Symposium 2020 (as well as other presentations from this event) online over the next few months.

To get the latest updates about these recordings, become an OPEN member – sign up here! 

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