It seems obvious that aged care facilities are not an appropriate place for young people, yet it appears frustratingly difficult to provide accommodation for this small but very important group of people which meets their needs. A new study in the most recent Australian Health Review reveals the barriers that have prevented a government program from reaching its goals of moving young people out of nursing homes within five years.

Study author, Di Winkler, CEO of the Summer Foundation writes….

The inappropriate placement of young people in residential aged care (RAC) is a problem in Australia as in many other countries. Aged care is not designed or resourced to facilitate the active involvement of young people with high clinical needs in everyday activities or support their continued participation in the life of their community. This was highlighted by recent research which showed that RAC residents spent most of their time alone or watching television.

In Australia, the 5-year national AU$244 million Younger People in Residential Aged Care Program (YPIRAC) commenced in July 2006. This initiative is one of the largest to be undertaken internationally and focuses on people under 50 years of age. Prior to the commencement of this program, there were more than 1000 Australians under 50 years of age who lived in aged care facilities.

Our study sought to evaluate the progress of the national YPIRAC program in moving them into more appropriate accommodation. Our research found that the development of new accommodation options for young people needing residential care has been slow. The 5-year program aims to move 689 young people out of nursing homes; in the first 4 years of the initiative only 139 people had moved out.

The lives of those who have been helped by the program have been enormously improved however the program is unlikely to result in a long-term reduction in the number of young people in aged care.

Our study identified two key factors that need to be addressed in order to significantly reduce the numbers of young people in nursing homes. First, there needs to be a dramatic increase in both the range and number of supported housing options. Second, there needs to be systemic change to stem the flow of young people into RAC facilities.

This will require a whole of government approach with the housing, health and disability sectors working in partnership. Without systemic change and sustained investment in alternative accommodation options, we will continue to deny young people the right to live in an environment that meets their social, emotional and developmental needs.