In an innovative and practical move towards bringing people together to address social problems, the Queensland Government joined with the National Australia Bank (NAB) and Life Without Barriers to launch the first Social Benefit Bond in the field of youth offending.

Social benefit bonds are one investment type of a broader collection of ‘Impact Investments’, a growing field where positive social outcomes are achieved and measured alongside financial returns.

The #YouthChoices program is for young people who are subject to youth justice supervision, and aged 10-14 at moderate to very high risk of recidivism or aged 15-16 at high to very high risk; and their families. The Program is delivered using the evidenced based Multi-Systemic Therapy model developed in the USA by highly-trained clinicians who work intensively with the families and care givers at least two or three times a week (or more as needed) in their homes. Clinicians are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the duration of the Program’s involvement with the family and aims to support parents to implement strategies to reduce offending by the child.

#YouthChoices Clinical Supervisor Ylishavai Ngateejah has seen the real benefits of the MST model. “We are seeing improvements in family interactions and reduced offending of individuals. Our motto at YouthChoices is ‘we do what it takes’ and that has enriched our work with families. We are very proud of what our team is achieving”.

Multi Systemic Therapy considers the whole ecology of the young person and works across the key environments, or ‘systems’, family, peers, school, neighbourhood, cultural support network, that are in a young person’s life. It uses the strengths of each system to facilitate positive behavioural change. Intervention may be necessary in any one or a combination of these systems. The program aims to:

  • Eliminate or significantly reduce the frequency and severity of the young person’s offending behaviour(s);
  • Empower parents with the skills and resources needed to independently address the inevitable difficulties that arise in raising children and adolescents, and
  • Empower the young person to cope with family, peer, school, and neighbourhood problems.

The #YouthChoices program includes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisor (ATA) at both locations (Springwood and Northlakes) to support the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The MST service model is one that fits well with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures because it starts with an assumption that the most important and influential people in a young person’s life are their family, and that it is family who hold the key to changing the young person’s behaviour.

MST assumes that families already do the very best they can given the resources, skills and knowledge they possess, so it serves no purpose to blame or criticise. Instead, MST seeks to determine why the family’s best efforts did not result in a competent, successful youth. MST evaluates the context of the family to better understand the challenges that prevented success. Interventions seek to overcome those challenges, allowing the parent or caregiver to figure out how to successfully do their job. MST will only work if it can effectively empower the young person’s caregivers with the knowledge, skills and resources to effectively raise their children without the need for ongoing formal support from agencies.

To do this, MST seeks to build the strength of the natural systems that are most influential on a young person’s behaviour. The family’s culture is a central strength in so far as the clinician, in partnership with the family, determines the strategies that are most consistent with that family’s culture, values, and their normal way of doing things and seeks to remove the barriers to success of that system rather than attempting to create a new and unfamiliar system for the family.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisor (ATA) act as a conduit, introducing MST to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family and vouching for the efficacy and cultural appropriateness of the intervention and the clinicians. A family may use the ATA for cultural support or to explain ‘family’ to a clinician during the intervention. The ATA provides cultural consultation and support to the MST team with the goal of reducing barriers.

Representatives from Kubingui Youth Development, the Logan District Elders Group and Brisbane Elders welcomed the advent of the program. At the #YouthChoices launch, Aunty Peggy from the Logan District Elders Group said that it “reflects the great work LWB do and we look forward to working alongside LWB and strengthening our partnership”.

Helena Holdaway, State Director for Life Without Barriers said her highly skilled teams in Springwood and Northlakes were on track to make a real difference to the lives of the young people and their families. She said the organisation was very pleased to be associated with such a strong, socially robust investment model. “It’s a true partnership of NGO, public and private agencies working together, it’s innovative, it’s inclusive and it’s bringing investors along on a platform of community benefit – the returns are more than just financial, they’re socially and ethically rich as well”.

Read more about other Social Benefit Bonds highlighted in In the Spotlight.