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Who Makes Decisions for Vulnerable Young People? Shifting Sands and Murky Waters

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This paper discusses the existing guidance in Australian legislative and regulatory frameworks to inform the process of young people moving through varying stages of maturity towards independent decision-making. In the context of exploratory research to develop a stable online repository of personal documents for young people in out-of-home care, the researchers envisioned in-built, age-appropriate levels of decision-making authority, associated with what was stored, who had access, and who owned these records. They sought guidance to protect young people themselves and to support workers and other mentors. Little unqualified guidance emerged from the documentary search. Supporting any young people in the journey towards independent decision-making relies on individual judgements about the type of decision and risks involved, and the age, maturity, and experience of the young person. Above all, a supportive trusting relationship with an adult allows young people to learn through their own mistakes.


Young people's competence in decision-making depends on a range of individual, familial, and social factors, and individualised guidance is necessary to support their participation.

A supportive, trusting relationship with an adult provides the best environment for balancing vulnerable young peoples’ participation rights with their continuing needs for protection.

The policy and practice challenge is to harness digital technologies without being distracted from the importance of relationship-based work.
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Keywords: Children’s Rights; Competence; Decisional Authority; Record-keeping; Young People

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Melbourne School of Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia 2: Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: July 3, 2018

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