Evidence brief: Complex needs

Published: September 19, 2018

A high-level review of international research on complex needs in children and young people involved in care and youth justice.


Some of the children and young people within the care and youth justice systems have what are described as 'complex needs'.  These can include behavioural issues, mental health problems and substance abuse.  

In order to ensure a successful, wrap-around care system, we need to understand the factors affecting children and young people involved with care and youth justice systems, what their specific needs look like, and what it is that puts some children at greater risk of developing these complex needs. 

We also need to have an up-to-date understanding of the most effective services and therapeutic responses.

Child and family services … are increasingly moving to kinship and community-based care.

Evidence brief: Complex needs report

Key findings

There's currently limited evidence about what works for children with complex needs. 

However, there are a number of common themes in the types of responses to complex needs that have been trialled in other care and youth justice systems.

These include:

  • preventative and early years interventions
  • comprehensive assessment of the child or young person, and their carers
  • joined-up or wrap-around services
  • attachment-based interventions
  • placement stability and appropriately supported carers
  • integrated and appropriate aftercare