In WA and beyond, place-based approaches can meet the needs of young people

In WA and beyond, place-based approaches can meet the needs of young people


In recent years the public and community sectors have worked toward place-based approaches to youth services. While many models have emerged, our experience reveals systemic challenges to achieving integrated person-centred services for young people.

The issue particularly resonates in Western Australia, where the state government is about to launch the Youth Strategy and the spread of population means place-based solutions are often considered.

But getting there can be challenging. Thinking about systemic factors – both barriers and enablers – are vital to making place-based services work.

Place-based approaches require integrating youth-specific and mainstream services

Youth services exist in a system of services that support young people. Youth services include three types of services:

  1. Engagement services help all young people access mainstream services or engage in positive social activities. These services are targeted at low-risk young people.
  2. Support services provide targeted interventions to vulnerable young people.
  3. Redirection and re-entry services direct young people away from crisis services or enable re-entry from crisis services. These services target at-risk young people.

Around these youth services are crisis services, including out-of-home care, police and youth justice services, as well as mainstream services such as schools, hospital and youth employment assistance.

Any place-based approach must consider all three types of youth services and also broader services for young people, including statutory and mainstream services.

Youth place-based approaches have several key success factors

Place-based approaches will not work unless driven by willing and empowered local communities, families and young people. Genuine approaches take time, effort and investment in building local relationships. Place-based approaches should not be taken up everywhere; locations should be carefully considered in terms of local need and community readiness.

When a place-based approach is adopted, there are several steps essential to success:

  • Priorities must be set by and with young people and local communities. Involving young people and communities in setting priorities and designing services is critical. Change is enabled by devolved decision-making models, in which priorities are set by and with local young people and communities. As is often rightly said, “nothing about us without us”.
  • Approaches need to be anchored with a clear shared vision. This vision must go beyond words on a page and involve understanding different perspectives and agreeing on common goals. It is more important to establish the correct philosophy and culture required for place-based approaches than to establish correct structures.
  • The backbone organisation must support sustained effort. These organisations should be embedded in community, act as honest brokers between departments and support people to experience services seamlessly. This requires skin in the game, and separate and explicit funding for the backbone role. Place-based approaches risk being devalued by inserting excess bureaucracy or making services approaches transactional.
  • The ‘place’ in place-based must be clearly defined. Place-based approaches can exist at many levels, and sometimes simultaneously. Agree on which place makes the most sense and start from there.
  • Local decision-makers must be given discretion to act. Creating a coherent service system requires incremental change of core services and achieving this requires delegated decision-making structures. Power should be transferred proportionately and progressively to local communities and organisations, based on their readiness and capability (and helping to build capability as needed).

Co-design with young people means more than just consultation

Integral to place-based solutions is co-design with young people. Our experience empowering young people in service design has provided insights on successful youth engagement and codesign.

Briefly, youth engagement is both a process (talking with young people) and an outcome (young people are engaged and contribute), and achieving meaningful youth engagement requires ongoing integration of young people in decision-making processes. Consulting disengaged young people demands a new approach, so creativity and technology offer significant opportunities to overcome barriers.

Youth empowerment is preferable to one-off consultations, which means thinking about what co-design with young people looks like and considering decision-making models that give young people power of determination.

There are systemic barriers and enablers to person-centred services

Our experience working on place-based approaches has provided insights on the systemic enablers and barriers to integrated, person-centred services.

Enablers include:

  • Visionary young people. Young champions play a vital role in driving youth participation in place-based approaches, and securing access and buy-in.
  • Local commitment from service providers. Constructive engagement with service providers (police, schools, programs) is critical to securing commitment and support from the broader service system.
  • Mechanisms for continuous involvement of the youth voice. Systematising youth engagement through mechanisms such as community navigators can play a key role in securing ongoing involvement from young people in decision-making processes.
  • Buy-in from system architects. Government can play a key role as facilitators of integration and in building individual, collective and organisational capability.

Barriers include:

  • Fragmented and programmatic approaches to funding. Fragmented and programmatic approaches to funding sources work directly against integrated and collective approaches to solving complex social challenges. Overcoming this challenge to secure sustainable and flexible funding is critical to success.
  • Failure to set up the backbone organisation for success. State government agencies are rarely best placed to perform this role. Finding the right organisation that combines local relationships and the capacity to influence with sound financial management and service design expertise can be a challenge.
  • Challenges addressing community perceptions. Community perceptions can be misaligned with the direction and intentions of place-based approaches. At its worst, this can be perceiving youth as a law and order issue, and at best, meaning well but favouring paternalistic and simplistic solutions.

Discussion needs to focus on solutions

Overcoming each barrier is vital to long-term success. We have identified three interlinking elements that are critical to the success of youth place-based models:

  1. Enabling funding. Funding structures should encourage collaboration rather than this happening despite funding arrangements. Contract lengths should recognise that building these relationships takes time.
  2. Effective support. Support provided should depend on community needs. Backbone organisations should add a means of sustained community engagement, not another layer of bureaucracy.
  3. Flexible delivery. Flexible governance structures should allow for local decision-making and adjustments, taking into account youth-specific, universal and statutory services.

Circle diagram of WA place-based services

Nous’ work with government and not-for-profit youth services providers in Western Australia and across the country explores system-level  enablers and barriers, identifies solutions that overcome challenges and leverages resources to meet the needs of young people.

We are confident this approach has enormous potential to improve the way youth services are delivered to the young people who need them to lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Get in touch to discuss how we can support your place-based delivery of youth services.

Published on 18 December 2019