Early Intervention Through the COSS model: A South Australian Perspective

Alex Christophel (UoA and Sonder), Dr Tracey Dodd (UoA), and Steven Wright (Sonder), have published an article in Parity’s Rethinking Early Intervention issue.

Each year, nationally, young people (ages 12 to 24) comprise a growing number of users accessing homelessness services with demand for services continually accelerating, especially following sustained impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase has been felt across each state - including South Australia. Despite attempts to reform the sector, knowledge regarding effective early intervention strategies remains nascent.

Further research and work is required to test models that can deliver ‘necessary and essential’ early intervention resources, models, and strategies, which reflect the current state of youth homelessness.

The Community of Schools and Services (COSS) model points to pillars of how such interventions could implemented, however, further empirical investigations are required to develop the evidence base to support boarder application.

The COSS model is an evidence and research driven place-based model, which stands as a proponent of a more inclusive and collaborative approach to youth homeless intervention services. The ‘COSS’ model, first implemented across three schools in a localised Geelong metropolitan case study area, represents a novel approach of ‘collective impact’ — engaging numerous local stakeholders to collaborate via data-sharing, collective co-ordinated governance, and shared staffing resources for cohesive purposes.

According to Dr Tracey Dodd, Program Director Adelaide Business School, a defining point of differentiation between COSS and other early intervention models, including Foyer models, is its systematic use of population screening for risk factors at local-user level. She says: “At-risk young people are proactively identified based on three metrics: at risk of homelessness indicators, disengagement from school indicators, and Kessler (K10) psychological distress indicators with data collated via client interviews, local school information sharing, and utilisation of the AIAD survey tools.

Through identifying users whose responses reflects a higher risk/vulnerability for future homelessness profile, support and service providers may act pre-emptively - before a young person reaches a full blown crisis level. The majority of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHSs) operate on a crisis-oriented model of care - COSS model’s added level of proactive screening allows for a ‘targeted or indicative prevention’ approach - tailored to the unique individual. A ‘complementary approach’ - also possible through the COSS Model, allows for segments/groups of at-risk populations to be targeted for service provision.”

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