Programs for young people not at school, or at risk of dropping out

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‘Re-engagement’ programs provide flexible learning and support, often aiming to support children and young people to re-engage with school, or to provide pathways to training and employment.

On this page:

Why students struggle and ‘disengage’

Children and young people – whether or not they have a disability – can struggle at school for many reasons. Sometimes a school is no longer meeting their learning or support needs. Sometimes they are affected by circumstances – at home, in their family or in their lives more broadly – that make it harder for them to focus and engage at school.

Some children or young people will withdraw or ‘disengage’; they might skip school or simply not participate in class and in school activities, and be at risk of ‘slipping through the cracks’, with their educational and support needs further neglected. Others might express their distress, anger or frustration through challenging behaviours. They might get into trouble at school, and perhaps be at risk of dropping out or being expelled.

Victorian government policy is to recognise the underlying reasons why students disengage or use challenging behaviours, and to provide support for more positive behaviour, and to ‘re-engage’ the student in their education. These ideas and terms – ‘engagement’, ‘disengagement’ and ‘positive behaviour support’ – are central to how DET requires schools to approach these issues. Understanding them will help you to stand up for your child and ask for the support they need.


When ‘re-engagement’ programs might be an option

If your child is at risk of disengaging, their school is required first to use ‘school-based’ strategies; planning for these must involve you and your child. If they do not work, a re-engagement program could be a good option.

There are re-engagement programs for children and young people of primary and secondary school age. They support students with a wide range of disabilities and mental health, emotional and behavioural issues, as well as diverse school histories and life experiences. Some students attend a program while enrolled at school­, attending part-time, or undertaking a full-time ‘placement’ for a period of a few months to a year or more.

Re-engagement programs are also designed for children and young people who have dropped out of school, who are not enrolled in any educational setting, and who might have significant difficulties – for a variety of reasons – returning to school.


What do they do?

The overall aim of these programs are to provide support and positive education outcomes for students. Some offer a long-term alternative option for students whose needs haven’t been met in a mainstream environment, but who might be ineligible to enrol in other specialist settings. Others provide a ‘loop out’ of the mainstream system – a period of intensive support and tailored education before the student returns to a mainstream school. For older students, these programs might also including accredited vocational training, leading to further job-skills training, post-secondary education or employment.

Some students might be in out-of-home care, homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless. Some might have experienced significant mental health or drug or alcohol issues, or have experienced other challenges in their lives such as family violence or sexual abuse. Re-engagement programs aim to provide intensive support to their students, and also link students and their parents or carers to other forms of support as needed.


Referral, access and adjustments

If possible, children and young people should be referred for re-engagement programs through a school. For many, this will be the school they are enrolled in. Young people who have dropped out of school should first try to seek re-enrolment and referral through the last school they attended, or their designated local school. If this is unsuccessful, then they – or their parent, carer or support worker – can contact the local DET regional office for support.

Your child’s school must receive your/your child’s consent to refer them to a re-engagement program. If your child is on the PSD, the referral must be approved by their Student Support Group, and be included as part of their individual education plan. The school will then liaise with the program provider, providing detailed information about your child’s needs, the goals of the placement and so on. The responsibilities of the school and program provider – and all funding arrangements – are outlined in a contract, which the school and program provider both sign when your child enrols.

All providers of re-engagement programs are subject to the same obligations under the Disability Standards for Education as any school or education provider, including to adjust their programs to meet the needs of students with a disability.


Find out more

Re-engagement programs are government funded. Some are run by government, Catholic or independent schools, and others by disability services or other non-profit welfare and training organisations.

  • Find out about re-engagement programs in your area by speaking with Student Wellbeing staff in your local DET regional office.
  • Look on our pages on Catholic and independent schools for outlines of and links to some re-engagement programs run by Catholic education and welfare providers, and independent non-government welfare and training services.
  • Find out more about re-engagement programs on the DET website – search under ‘re-engagement programs’.

Students with complex needs, including students with disabilities and mental health issues, can also be assisted through partnerships between their school and community agencies through the School Focussed Youth Service Program. For more information talk to your school’s welfare coordinator or other staff, or contact the regional DET office or regional SFYS Program Coordinator.