Interview with the Project Coordinator Flemish Agency for Youth Welfare
Interview with project coordinator: Flemish Agency for Youth Welfare: David Debrouwere, Head of Department Private Facilities
What are the challenges and the objective of the “A Way Home project”?
During several meetings with our colleagues, we noticed that authorities and youth care providers all over Europe struggle with their policies on how to prepare young care leavers for interdependent living after care. Also in Flanders, too many youngsters who have left care, face exclusion from sustainable housing, work, education and leisure activities. That’s why better after care strategies are urgently needed. In the ‘A Way Home’ project, we will tackle two issues. First we will define and implement a clear after care policy for the entire youth care sector: quality standards, a toolbox for the preparation for interdependent living and a training for professionals will be developed. Second, we will try out the Canadian ‘A Way Home’ model as a structural approach to fight youth exclusion, on a local level, in areas such as housing, education, culture and health. Both aspects will be piloted in the regions of Flanders and Carinthia. Last but not least, in this project the voice of the young care leavers and direct actions with them are central. The project involves maximally the young people themselves and takes their experiences, needs and voices into account.
What is the Canadian A Way Home model and why did you choose it as inspiration?
A Way Home (http://awayhome.ca/) is a national movement that brings together a coalition of partners who are dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness in Canada, where it has already been implemented in several States. We were inspired by their radical choice for ending youth homelessness through effective collaboration and service integration while putting the rights of young people in the front. Central in the A Way Home approach is building a Coalition of the Willing of stakeholders from youth care, social and health care, local authorities, education, housing, labour market, therapeutic, local social services,… By harnessing the available local and public resources and by building a common local action plan these stakeholders engage themselves to prevent young vulnerable people from falling through cracks.
We chose this model as inspiration for our project because of the correlation between youth homelessness and a past in (youth) care.
In this project the voice of the young care leavers and direct actions with them are central. The project involves maximally the young people themselves and takes their experiences, needs and voices into account
What will be the outputs of the project?
The combination in this project of clear after care policies with the A Way Home model assures on different levels, and during several phases a guaranteed support for the young persons who have left or who are still in care.
With the after care policy, authorities will implement regional mechanisms and quality standards to support youth leaving care. The capacity of the professionals in aftercare will be built up with the toolbox and training-package. The toolbox will consists of evidence informed methods, collected on the basis of different criteria as participatory, connecting, enabling, ... Young care leavers will get structured and thorough aftercare, with themselves in the cockpit of their own aftercare trajectory. They will be better prepared in several life domains and have a better chance on a successful transition to an interdependent life.
With the A Way Home approach, a local youth policy will be set up that is cross-sectorial and covers all measures that affect conditions for young vulnerable people in a number of different areas, such as employment, housing, health, education, leisure, culture and other perspectives. A strategic coordination of services will make sure that no young person fall through cracks.
After Care policies to fight youth exclusion thanks to the “A Way Home project” will be piloted at regional level in Flanders and Antwerp. Can you tell us why it is important for your region and what you will do concretely?
The topic of after care is a priority for Flanders. In 2016, the Flemish Minister for Welfare, Public Health and Family, Jo Vandeurzen, launched the policy document ‘Jeugdhulp 2.0’ to make the youth care stronger and more user-friendly. In this policy, young care leavers are a key target group and a specific action plan was developed to strengthen the support to young adults via instruments as after care plans and round tables and via collaboration with citizen initiatives and community initiatives. We believe this collaboration is absolutely crucial as it will prevent youngsters getting in extreme situations of loneliness and social isolation. If we want our professional interventions to have a lasting effect, we will have to invest in or create social networks around the youngsters. We are continuously searching, together with the private institutions, for the best working standards and methods. The participation in this European project, is a big chance to get to know innovative international approaches and pilot these in the city of Antwerp.
The University College ‘AP’ will train the social workers, after which they will use these methods together with the young people who will leave the youth care soon. During peer-to-peer learning, the social workers will exchange their experiences on the new instruments and guidance.
We believe this collaboration is absolutely crucial as it will prevent youngsters getting in extreme situations of loneliness and social isolation
To build a Coalition of the Willing and local action plans in the city of Antwerp, we will collaborate with the existing platform around young care leavers - Mind the Gap – in which youth and adult care, employment and housing services, … are represented. An important action will be the organisation of the Community Planning Institute in September 2018: under guidance of the Canadian A Way Home experts and Feantsa, we will organize a catalyst event designed to build the capacity of communities to plan and implement effective strategies that support care leavers, and which, in turn, also prevent, reduce and end youth exclusion.
We are excited to participate in this international collaboration which will make all the stakeholders involved stronger in supporting young people to build up a meaningful life.