The central theme of the workshop is the exploration of how policies in various youth-related fields identify certain young people as requiring support or intervention. The interdisciplinary approach to the workshop will demonstrate how ‘vulnerable’ young people are understood in different fields and examine the impacts of such understandings.

Specifically, this workshop brings together researchers, policy makers and those involved with institutions that serve youth in order to explore:

  1. Conceptualisations:
    • how and why do certain young people come to be identified and represented as in some way ‘vulnerable’ and requiring support in Australian public policy in relation to education, health, justice, and welfare?
  2. Enactments and impacts:
    • how are such policy conceptualisations enacted in professional practice? and
    • how are these conceptualisations and practices impacting both on young people and Australian society at large?

By virtue of their age, young people as a group are the object of both practice interventions and policy attention. Within the youth group, however, distinctions are made. This workshop has as its focus this categorisation of some young people as requiring extra support. While we use the term ‘vulnerable’ (based on recent policy reports) such young people may also be referred to as being at-risk, disadvantaged, marginalised or disenfranchised.


Together, youth related policies and institutions attempt to wrap youth in a supportive embrace to prevent problems from arising, to catch problems early, and, where that fails, to support youth who have somehow succumbed to vulnerability. Identifying some young people as vulnerable – rather than providing such services for everyone – enables limited resources to be targeted at those who need them most.

This poses several challenges. First, selecting some young people for special attention creates the dual risk of stigmatising some and excluding others. However not singling them out may lead to further disadvantage. This creates a dilemma for the provision of services for young people.

Secondly, determining which young people warrant what kinds of support and when is a fraught issue. The criteria for such ‘triage’ are rarely clear-cut. At the policy level, this challenge focuses especially on which priorities to highlight in public announcements and through funding. At the practice level, enactment of policies may affect how and to whom programs are advertised, and who is considered eligible. How such decisions are made impacts on individual young people who are targeted (or not) and also impacts on their community and wider society. Getting this ‘right’ is important in terms of fairness, social cohesion, cost-effectiveness and, most of all, the quality of life of young Australians.

The workshop will engage with these challenges by not only exploring how and why certain young people are identified as vulnerable in relevant policy, but also the policy-practice nexus and the impacts of such categorisations. In addition, the workshop strategically includes participants from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, because solutions to complex problems require interdisciplinary conversations.


Young people’s lives cross over several domains. The experiences that may make young people less or more vulnerable are not singular and straightforward, but form a complex web of interrelated and multi-directional forces. While some youth policies take a holistic approach to all such youth experiences, often youth policies are nested within education, health, justice and welfare policies. The benchmarks for ‘vulnerability’ and the interactions between policy and practice may differ between such fields. Similarly in research, the field of youth studies spans scholarship across all areas of young people’s lives – but much research about, for and with young people takes place within specific disciplines. This means different theoretical and methodological orientations are brought to the study of vulnerable youth.

In recognition of this diversity, the workshop will bring together professional and academic experts across a range of fields. It is hoped that sharing data and insights will facilitate improved understandings to inform future scholarship, policy and practice.

The program has been developed to foster interactions between workshop participants from different fields, positioning all participants as both experts and learners. The intention is not only to share views and experiences, but also to develop ways to evaluate current policies and inform future policies to promote better outcomes for young people and for society. In addition, a selection of papers (either prepared before or flowing from the workshop) will be published as an edited book in the Sense book series “Innovations and Controversies” (edited by the Victoria Institute for Education, Diversity, and Lifelong Learning, which is hosting this workshop).