Strategy, investment to help Tasmanian children – The Examiner opinion piece

Michelle Wisbey 2017, News and Media, Opinion Pieces and Public Commentary, Young People

Read the original article on The Examiner website

As most parents face the task of getting the kids ready for another school year, there are some children,  mostly hidden from sight, who are trying to navigate the adult world alone.

On any given day there are hundreds of vulnerable children across our state who have disconnected from their family, don’t have a home, access to money, to transport, or even know when the first day of term is.

In 2015-16, there were 342 unaccompanied children aged between 10 and 17 that sought shelter from Specialist Homelessness Services in Tasmania.

These are children who are not in our child protection system but, for a long list of different reasons, are unable to live at home.

Accessing their right to an education becomes an almost impossible challenge for these children. Making it to class before the bell rings is tricky if you don’t know where you’re sleeping each night.

How will your school fees get paid? How will you buy a new uniform? How will you even get to school, let alone have something to eat for lunch?

We know that current services are inadequate for these highly vulnerable young people. For some children as young as 10 years old, when the school day ends their goal for the rest of the day is to find somewhere to sleep and something to eat.

They may sleep on the couch at a friend’s house, or they could sleep next to someone dangerous, they might be lucky enough to get into crisis accommodation, but sometimes, the only option is on the street.

As well as the daily challenge of shelter and meeting basic needs, these kids are battling the impact of significant and regular trauma during their lives.

Trauma influences a child’s development and affects their behaviour and capacity to cope, which can go on to impact almost every area of their life.

For these children, flipping a desk in the classroom may be less embarrassing than admitting they’re having trouble with basic literacy because they’ve already missed too much school.

Sometimes they might be aggressive in the school grounds because the only way they’ve been taught to solve problems is through violence. These are the kids that need our help, not our quick judgement and exclusion.

As most 10-year-olds walk out of the school gate thinking about who they are going to play with after school, about their next soccer match or looking forward to dinner with the family, others are making adult decisions alone. We all want to see children thrive, to be offered the opportunity to reach their full potential and to grow into happy and healthy adults.

We need all parties to develop a shared commitment to the wellbeing of Tasmania’s children; an approach that creates long-term solutions, breaks entrenched cycles and delivers significantly better outcomes. This issue is too important for political point-scoring or short-term approaches for political gain in election cycles.

We need existing specialist adolescent services to be expanded to provide a complete suite of drug and alcohol, mental health, education, trauma and medium and long-term supported accommodation services for teenagers.

All children deserve the chance to reach their potential, but without a committed strategic approach and greater investment, we will continue to fall short in caring for Tasmania’s most vulnerable children.