When we asked readers for their input on a reporting trip to Australia, many of you expressed a universal concern: money.
A team of Education Lab and Seattle Times journalists returned from our trip Down Under a few weeks ago, but we’re still gathering answers for those of you who wanted to know more about the Geelong Project — a program from Australia that some believe could help reduce youth homelessness in King County.
Named after the port city in which it started, the Geelong Project uses a universal survey in secondary schools to identify students at risk of becoming homeless or dropping out of school. A team of early intervention workers then interviews each young person and connects them with varying levels of support and wraparound services to keep them stably housed and in class. In other words, it focuses on prevention.
The program has since spread across Australia; to Ontario, Canada; and possibly soon to the U.S. A handful of school districts in South King County may participate in pilots of the now-globally dubbed Upstream Project next year, and communities in Minneapolis and San Mateo, Calif., could start even earlier.
We’ve received even more questions from readers since our return, but please keep submitting new ones. In the meantime, here’s another batch of answers:
How do they pay for the program?
This was by far the most popular question, and some readers specifically wanted to know whether the Geelong Project has a dedicated source of revenue and if the public contributes any taxes to it.
Barwon Child, Youth & Family (BCYF) — a nonprofit that operates the program and provides the bulk of youth and family services in the region — relies on a mix of funding to run the Geelong Project.
It started in 2012 as a research and evaluation project with about $170,000 (in U.S. dollars) in funding from the Australian federal government. The Victorian state government, as part of a four-year homeless action plan, injected another $800,000 (in U.S. dollars) to develop and test the early intervention model at the heart of the program.
But Mandy Baxter, manager of youth services at BCYF, suggested the first phase of the trial might have been too ambitious, as it expanded the program to every public high school in Geelong.
“This was a time of great learning and troubleshooting,” she said.
Within 18 months, an independent evaluation of the Geelong Project failed to find “significant client outcomes,” according to the housing minister at the time, and the state money dried up. Rather than calling it quits, the partnership behind the program secured a small amount of stopgap funding from local charities and foundations, Baxter said.
The project relaunched in 2016, this time at just three campuses: Geelong High School, Newcomb Secondary College and Northern Bay College. Early results from those schools, evaluated over three years, persuaded the state government last year to commit nearly $2 million (in U.S. dollars) to expand the pilot to seven schools in Geelong.
Who employs the case manager: A government agency or community-based organization?
BCYF, the regional nonprofit, employs the case managers, who formally go by the title “early intervention worker.”
They have a range of professional backgrounds, including working in the criminal justice system — and wanting to prevent young people from entering it in the first place. Some have experience at other homeless-prevention programs or spent most of their careers focused on youth mental health.
The early intervention workers work closely with a team of well-being staff on each campus. Those teams, funded by the state, often include full-time coordinators, social workers, school psychologists, doctors, nurses, first-aid workers — which are different than nurses — mental-health counselors and academic counselors.
What kind of diverse students are involved?
Short answer: not many.
Geelong — and Australia more generally — doesn’t have a lot of diversity, especially compared to Seattle and King County.
As mentioned in our last batch of answers, the country does not collect demographic data about race and limits its census to questions about ancestry, language and place of birth. But census data show that more than 3 in 4 residents in Geelong cite English, Australian, Irish, Scottish or German ancestries — above the 60% average for Victoria statewide and 65% for Australia as a whole.
Schools, however, do report the number of students who identify as “culturally and linguistically diverse.” And the two most diverse schools in Geelong are North Geelong Secondary College and Northern Bay College, with just under a third of students meeting that standard.
With about 150 students, the Northern Bay campus also has the single-largest concentration of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander enrollment of any public school in Victoria.