Transcending the Professional-Client Divide: Supporting Young People with Complex Support Needs Through Transitions

Child Adolesc Social Work J. 2020;37(2):109-122. doi: 10.1007/s10560-020-00651-x. Epub 2020 Jan 19.


Young people with complex support needs frequently experience multiple intersecting forms of disadvantage including experiences of violence, abuse and neglect, housing instability and homelessness, problematic substance use, exclusion from education, and contact with the criminal justice system. Many of these young people have mental health, cognitive disability and/or other health issues that also impact on their lives. These young people need to navigate multiple, diverse, and often difficult transitions between services, adding to the existing chaos in their lives. This article explores the experiences of young people with complex support needs in transition, specifically young people's viewpoints and experiences of supports they receive from paid professionals. This qualitative study used body mapping research methods and in-depth interviews with 38 young people aged 16 to 26 years in three Australian states. Helpful and trusting paid relationships could serve as an anchor to young people during complex transitions and other highly turbulent life periods. These relationships were contingent on a deep and non-judgmental knowing of the young person, contributed constructive outcomes and stability in young people's lives, and for some young people, had 'life-saving' effects. These findings present opportunities and challenges for policymakers and practitioners to balance the tensions between authentic relationship-based work with young people and risk-averse, economically-driven imperatives in contemporary youth service provision.

Keywords: Body mapping; Complex support needs; Relationship-based practice; Transition; Young people.