What is a Youth Foyer?
Foyers are integrated learning and accommodation settings for young people, typically aged 16 – 24 years, who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Foyers provide a point in time service that enable young people in transition to develop and achieve educational and employment pathways, exiting in a sustainable way from welfare and service dependence. While there are programs in both the education and homelessness sectors that seek to support young people experiencing disadvantage with their education or accommodation across Australia, there are almost no fully integrated service models focused on education and employment outcomes.
The key to the model lies in the provision of stable accommodation for up to two years in a supported, congregate living environment. For young people who are unable to rely on family support in this critical developmental stage, Foyers provide the time, personalised attention, mentoring, coaching and access to opportunities needed to lead fulfilling, independent and productive lives.
A Youth Foyer is much more than a supported accommodation facility, or welfare program. Utilising an ‘Advantaged Thinking’ approach, Foyers seek to tap into the goals and ambitions of young people and nurture their talents while building skills for life. At heart, the Foyer model is based on the life-changing proposition that the most constructive thing we can do for young people is to ensure they become educated, employable and empowered so they can build better lives for themselves, and achieve genuine independence.
Foyers aim to:
- Reduce the number of young people cycling through the housing and homelessness system
- Increase the number of young people completing education qualifications.
- Increase the number of young people productively employed
The Foyer concept has developed over the last half-century as an innovative response to high levels of youth unemployment and youth homelessness. Developed in many different social, historical and political contexts – including in France, the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US) and Australia – multiple definitions and Foyer models exist. Foyers around the world have demonstrated positive outcomes in terms of improved educational attainment, increased employment opportunities and better housing outcomes for young people experiencing homelessness.
The development of the Youth Foyer movement in Australia has been more gradual than in the UK and the rest of Europe. In the UK there are over 135 Foyers supporting more than 10,000 young people, compared to 15 Foyers or Foyer-like services across Australia with capacity to support up to 500 young people. Unlike the UK, Foyers in Australia have been developed on an ad-hoc basis by individual agencies and government departments.
Similar to the Foyer Federation in the UK, the Foyer Foundation was established in 2008 to support the growth and development of the Australian Foyer Movement, as well as providing accreditation, and embedding standards and quality assurance for existing or prospective Foyer providers.
A Different Approach
Developed by Colin Falconer during his time at the UK Foyer Federation, ‘Advantaged Thinking’ recognizes that all young people have a vital contribution to make to the social and economic life of our communities and society, and that to do so all young people should have access to the opportunities and social networks that facilitate social and economic participation.
Foyers utilise the concept of Advantaged Thinking in the way they approach the development and support of young people. Advantaged Thinking is focused on identifying, developing and, most importantly, investing in the skills, capabilities and assets of young people so that they can establish good lives for themselves. Informed by asset based approaches including capabilities and sustainable livelihoods, Advantaged Thinking represents a paradigm shift in the way we think about and respond to young people experiencing disadvantage.
Conventional responses to youth homelessness often focus disproportionately on a young person’s various problems and needs. While acknowledging the importance of these factors, Advantaged Thinking seeks to redress this imbalance by working to build aspiration, capability and opportunity.
This approach involves coaching, supporting young people to have agency over decisions about their future, and rallying community support to provide opportunities and networks. By making a positive investment of this type in young people, Advantaged Thinking co-creates solutions – access to mainstream jobs, education and community connections. This approach is grounded in a campaign for wider policy reform.
The Deal is key mechanism by which the Foyer approach is upheld. The Deal is designed to prepare young people for the real world and the expectations associated with achieving and sustaining an independent livelihood.
The Deal is a ‘something for something’ agreement that is enacting in all aspects of Foyer life. The Deal upholds the rights and responsibilities of both students and Foyer staff, promoting a culture of mutual investment for mutual gain.
To uphold their side of the Deal, students/residents are accountable for remaining in education, training and employment, maintaining their accommodation, and taking up the range of activities and the opportunities their Foyer has to offer. Equally, the Deal identifies staff responsibilities to students/residents, holding them accountable for the work they are required to undertake, in particular their responsibility for leveraging opportunities.
By expecting something from young people the Deal is designed to instill in them that they are both valued and can add value to society. This is key for young people’s sense of self, enabling them to navigate their lives after Foyer confidently.
For young people to hold high aspirations and achieve their goals, they need to know of, and have access to, diverse opportunities. Focusing on a young person’s strengths or challenges alone, while important, ignores the structural aspects of disadvantage. Providing access to resources and opportunities is vital to promoting and developing a sense of self, in order to achieve success.
A core function of Foyers is to broker opportunities for residents/students that are matched to their aspirations. Foyers source opportunities for young people to engage in a diverse range of real world activities including education and training, employment, volunteering, mentoring and recreation.