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Transitioning to adulthood

For some young people you work with, you will be responsible for guiding them and assisting them to transition to adulthood (see the practice kit Transition to adulthood and procedure 5 Support a young person's transition to adulthood). A key focus of their transition to adulthood plan will include how the supports they receive regarding their disability will continue to be met, and what will change when they turn 18. Some important questions young people with a disability who are transitioning to adulthood may ask include:

  • How will I transition from a child / youth focused health service to an adult health service? Is there even the same service available for adults?
  • Will my future home be accessible and have the right physical supports installed for me?
  • Do I have to leave my carer’s home? Will they keep caring for me once I turn 18?
  • Who can I turn to for support if I feel alone and I’m not getting the right support for my disability?

Time sensitive

Early engagement with the NDIS is important to support a young person’s disability needs. 

From 17 years actively engage the young person’s NDIS support coordinator in the transition to adulthood plan so that their disability support needs post care are clearly identified and can be appropriately funded in their NDIS plan

Create Foundation is the national consumer body representation the voices of children and young people with alternative care experience. For further information and resources and to develop your understanding of key issues for all young people in care, browse the Create website.

See the Working with a young person with disability section in the practice kit Transition to adulthood.

Interface with youth justice system

People with disability are overrepresented in the Australian criminal justice system, including the youth justice system. The Telethon Kids Institute recently undertook research in the youth justice setting in Western Australia which found that 89% of the young people had at least one domain of severe neurodevelopmental impairment.  Other research has also shown that there is a high prevalence of developmental language disorders in young offenders which is often undiagnosed.


What does this research tell you about the assessments and interventions you need to consider for young people you are working with who may be repeatedly involved in the youth justice system?

The 2014 report Equal before the law: Towards disability justice strategies by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the 2018 report ‘I needed Help, instead I was punished’ by the Human Rights Watch both confirm:

  • People with disabilities are more likely to be incarcerated and have repeated contact with the criminal justice system.
  • The identification of and response to offender disabilities is significantly lacking.

Practice prompt

Ensure that the young person you are working with has appropriate legal representation, and that their legal representation has a thorough understanding of the young person’s disability including the impact it has on their functioning and their offending behaviour. 

If a young person is sentenced to be in youth detention, make contact with the senior CSO (youth justice liaison) as soon as possible in relation to NDIS access and support for the young person. The senior CSO youth justice liaison may be best placed to:

  • gather eligibility evidence and attend the planning meetings with the NDIS
  • ensure discussion and monitoring of NDIS supports is included in stakeholder meetings while the young person is in detention
  • assist with establishing NDIS supports for the child following their transition back into their community.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the youth justice system

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is used to describe physical and/or neurodevelopmental impairments as a result of a child's mother consuming alcohol while pregnant. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder impacts a number of neurodevelopmental domains which can include impulse control, memory, affect regulation, behaviours and social skills. Having issues in these domains all increase a young person’s risk of criminal activity and involvement with the justice system.

If young people break the law, they are expected by society and the legal system to be remorseful for their behaviour, to not break the law again, and to abide by any conditions imposed on them. People with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can have difficulty learning from previous mistakes, an inability to recognise danger, poor memory, and poor judgement and problem solving ability. A young person with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder may not have the ability to adhere to particular bail conditions or to avoid situations that are harmful to themselves or others, which increases the risk that they will return to the attention of the justice system.

Recent research by the Telethon Kids Institute in youth detention in Western Australia found that 36% of their cohort were diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, however only two young people had this diagnosis prior to participating in the research.


If you suspect a young person you are working with has FASD and it has not yet been diagnosed, let their legal representative know and progress a referral for assessment as soon as possible.

The Telethon Kids Institute has produced a series of videos about the interface between people who have Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the justice system. Watch these videos to develop your understanding of how Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can impact the young people you are working with and how Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder may increase their risk of coming into contact with the youth justice system.

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