Expanding specialised settlement support to refugee and newly arrived young people

In the decade leading up to the mid 2000s, the profile of newly arrived refugees settling in Victoria had shifted, with this change accelerating in the 2000s, to include a greater proportion of young people (now over 50% of refugees settling in Victoria) and also people with increasingly complex settlement support needs. Factors such as young people’s exposure to violence, significantly interrupted education, grief (including in many cases the loss of family members) the fracturing of social and familial networks, illness (physical or mental), experiences of discrimination and/or racism, challenges for families in providing support and the risk of social isolation while managing the challenge of resettling in a culturally different place while learning a new language, meant that these young people and their families needed access to a support program that could cater to their complex needs. A significant amount of young people were also arriving as unaccompanied minors, without the support of family in their settlement.

CMYI’s response to these increasingly complex needs was characteristically multi-dimensional. They sought to better understand the experiences and needs of these young people and their families, and of the youth and community services that work with them, by engaging both young people and services providers in consultations and research processes.

In the early to mid 2000s, CMY published several research reports, significantly contributing to the development of a body of knowledge on supporting the settlement of refugee young people, including: Homeless Twice: exploring resettlement and homelessness for migrant and refugee young people (2001), Refugee Youth Issue in the Goulburn Valley Region of Victoria (2001), All I ask for is Protection: Young people seeking asylum in Australia (2002), Educational Support Issues for Refugee and Newly Arrived Youth (2003), Adrift or Afloat? Issues affecting refugee young people who settle without their parents (2004), Late arrivals: the needs of refugee young people who settle without their parents (2004) and Settling In: Exploring Good Settlement for Refugee Young People in Australia (2006).

By adopting an ‘action research’ approach to reviewing the programs they ran, CMYI’s research and advocacy work was informed by their experiences in providing direct support to young people and their families through the delivery of the Refugee Alternative Pathways Program (previously JPET) and the Reconnect Young Refugees program and, from 2005 as the lead provider, the Newly Arrived Youth Support Services (NAYSS). This role presented CMYI with a new opportunity to develop and share resources with NAYSS providers across the state, to support good practice in working with newly arrived young people.

To spite existing programs, more needed to be done to support newly arrived young people with complex needs. In 2008, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship introduced the Complex Case Support (CCS) program. Through this program, CMY (as the organisation was then called) designed and provided a specialised approach to intensive support for young refugees with complex and high needs who had arrived as humanitarian entrants. The CMY model was tailored to the needs of each young person and their family and successfully shifted young people from crisis situations to stability.

While advocating to governments at all levels to strengthen responses to newly arrived, refugee young people, CMYI also supported the establishment of a Victorian Settlement Planning Committee on Refugee Youth in 2001. The Victorian Settlement Committee brought together all three tiers of government and community organisations to plan for the successful delivery of settlement services. CMYI contributed to the development of a ‘Good Practice Principles Guide for Working with Refugee Young People’ by the Committee, released in 2005. The following year, CMYI chaired the Victorian Settlement Planning Committee sub-committee on African Youth Issues, drawing on their extensive experience in working with young people from African countries, their families and communities.