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Young people with serious emotional and mental health issues and challenging behaviours and are getting unique support from KEYS East, a partnership between Mind Australia, MacKillop Family Services, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and Youth Support and Advocacy Service.

KEYS East is one of a number of KEYS services in Victoria but one with some unique features. Keys (Keep Embracing Your Success) is a service for young people aged 12 to 17 years who are currently in or are likely to move into Out of home care.  

Out of home care refers to short, medium or long-term living arrangements made for young people 0–17 years who can’t, according to the assessment of human services personnel, safely remain living in their family home due to various combinations of abuse, neglect and/or family violence, collectively known as maltreatment. 1

Why is KEYS needed?

Latest data shows that 45,996 children are residing in Out of home care in Australia.2 This number is rising annually with a disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children: First Nations young people are 11 times more likely to end up in Out of home care3, highlighting the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma and The Stolen Generation.4 

Young people in Out of home care are at significant disadvantage compared to the general youth population5 and this disadvantage is carried through to adulthood6 substantially increasing their risk of mental health challenges, substance misuse, criminal offending, lower educational achievement and risk of premature mortality7.

Recent studies report that young people in out of home care have a considerably higher prevalence rates of mental health challenges in out-of-home-care than rates for young people in the community - between 46% and 96% compared to 18 and 70% respectively8.

How does KEYS work?

Keep Embracing Your Success, or KEYS, provides a culturally safe, trauma informed and inclusive service response, including supporting First Nations children and families.

The overarching aim of KEYS is to transition young people into longer term and less intensive placement options. To create these pathways out of residential care, KEYS aims to support young people to stabilise their behaviour and build their future through a multidisciplinary focus across the following five domains: 

  • managing emotions
  • building life skills
  • strengthening identity and social, emotional and community connection
  • safety
  • education and employment.

Young people referred to KEYS may have or are currently experiencing one or more of the following difficulties:

  • complex mental health difficulties 
  • significant neglect, physical and sexual abuse, witnessed and/or subjected to family violence, and exposure to family violence criminal offending behaviours
  • substance misuse
  • high vulnerability to sexual exploitation and abuse.
It truly is incredible to see the positive impact this service is able to make on these individual young people's lives.
Anoushka Wootton, General Manager for Melbourne’s Eastern Region, Mind Australia

The KEYS model provides a four-bed residential care house with 24/7 rostered staffing and wrap around support from a multi-disciplinary team. This includes Skills Coaches, who provide the day-to-day nurturing and capacity building within the home, a House Coordinator, a Case Manager, a Cultural Support Worker, an Education and Vocation specialist, a Family Engagement Worker, an AOD Worker, a Community Engagement Worker Senior Mental Health Clinician, and a Psychiatrist.

The KEYS to success

The key to the program’s success is its ability to be flexible and adapt to who it is supporting, Anoushka Wootton (she/they), Mind General Manager for Melbourne’s Eastern Region, said.

“The young people KEYS supports often can’t engage with the existing system – alternatively, we could view this as the existing system struggling to engage meaningfully with the young person - so we take the help to them.”

“There is a slow building of rapport, working at the young person’s individual pace. We don’t close on them as other services might be required to do and we tenaciously engage with them, continuing to turn up for them even when the young person doesn’t. This consistency helps to build safety and trust, and that’s when we see the results.”

KEYS East has a psychiatrist, senior mental health clinician and other resources in its staffing profile, so they are available when the young person is ready to engage with them. “This means that if a young person declines service they don’t have to go through the usual process of re-referring, going through intake and waiting to be assigned a clinician or treatment team again,” Anoushka said.

Holding culture and role modelling

Holding culture is another important feature of the program, given the number of young people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage it supports. KEYS East has a dedicated cultural support worker who ensures clinical and psychosocial mental health supports are developed and implemented through culturally appropriate lens. They also engage the young people in developing connection to identity and culture, as the young person wishes.

Role modelling pro-social behaviours – coached by Mind’s Senior Mental Health Clinician and Lead Practitioner – MacKillop Family Services’ Skills Coaches support young people on a day to day basis with groups, attending outings and household activities. 

KEYS East provides young people with up to 12 months service engagement followed by a six month transition back into the community with a treatment plan and a multidisciplinary support team wrapped around them. That might be another residential support service or their own place depending on their age and circumstances.

“It truly is incredible to see the positive impact this service is able to make on these individual young people's lives,” Anoushka said.

“We see them moving from no assessments and incredible distress to the young person having a greater understanding of what is happening for them, greater sense of control in their lives, and ultimately greater opportunities for wellbeing as they move toward young adulthood.”

Read about Mind’s Young People’s Strategy


This article is based on a presentation by Alex James, Senior Mental Health Clinician, Mind Australia, and Lauren Rodgers, McKillop Family Services at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference 2024.

  1. Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2019
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIWH], 2021; Devlin et al 2022
  3. (Australian Institute of Family Studies [AIFS], 2018);
  4. (The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, 2017).
  5. (Fernandez, 2009; Royal Australasian College of Physicians [RACP], 2006),
  6. (Vinnerljung & Sallnas, 2008),
  7. (Gao et al., 2017)
  8. Rahamim and Mendes, 2015; Haune et al. 2023, Mends and Chaffey 2023