SYC’s Streetwork Program was a fundamental aspect of the organisation when it began in 1958.

It supported the growing number of young people who felt disconnected and isolated from the wider community. It was clear that the limited youth related activities available in Adelaide were not of interest or engaging young people. This caused many to congregate in public areas, which was concerning to the wider community.

In the early days, the SYC Streetworkers were a group of Social Work students. They wanted to pilot the ‘outreach’ approach of working with disengaged young people in a public space. The workers were educated in adolescent social development. This allowed them to provide age-appropriate advice in an approachable and non-judgmental  manner. A lot of research went into the program to discover how many young people were in specific locations. Social workers were then positioned accordingly.

They found the main reasons young people were congregating in the city was due to boredom and seeking social interaction. For some it was to escape an unhappy home life. As the social workers got to know the young people it was evident they were unaware of where they could get help for personal problems, social needs, family difficulties and finding employment. There was also a notable lack of services for young people experiencing mental illness and SYC provided support accordingly.

When Max Kau started as Director of SYC in 1978 he wanted to revamp the Streetwork Program to ensure young people could access services they needed.

He received philanthropic support from the MYER Foundation to undertake research and development of the program. Specially trained SYC volunteers surveyed over 400 young people. They found that many had never heard of SYC, or knew where they could get support with issues they were facing. Max used these findings to create specific support he could take directly to young people, rather than hoping they would find it out for themselves.

“Young people needed direct access to specialised support services, that weren’t being provided for them in the broader community,” said SYC’s former CEO Max Kau.

“The results of this particular survey challenged SYC to come up with alternative and effective solutions to meet the varying needs of young people. This time was a pivotal turning point in our approach and service delivery. Many youth specific publications and programs were created to compliment the Streetwork Program,” he said.

Whilst SYC had always utilised the support of volunteers to engage young people, the renewed Streetwork Program was highly structured in the way it engaged, trained and supported volunteers to deliver the program. Groups of trained volunteers, in the evenings and nights, would work in Adelaide city. They spoke to young people about what they were doing, what they needed and how they could find support and engagement in the community.

A number of other SYC initiatives were created because of the Streetwork Program, to support the work of volunteers and employees.

These included:

Over the decades, the Streetwork Program evolved and changed. It was responsive to both the changing needs of young people and the increasing number of those experiencing crisis. Whilst there may no longer be a program delivered by SYC labelled the “Streetwork Program”, the approach and ethos is still highly relevant to the programs we deliver and the way we work today.