Unsettling truth of Tasmanian child homelessness
By SARC researcher Catherine Robinson
Read the original article in The Mercury
Youth Homelessness Matters Day, which is being acknowledged nationally this week, is an important recognition of the fact that homelessness is experienced by young people, as well as adults.
What isn’t well understood by governments and the community is child homelessness. This is an uncomfortable truth that needs championing.
It is unsettling, politically and morally, to discover there are Tasmanian children who are homeless and alone, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.
We most often assume that homeless children are homeless with their families — and indeed this is how they are most often represented. The current way we report on statistics also helps to hide the issue. Homeless children’s status as unaccompanied is often not made clear. They are also rolled into the category of youth, which covers everyone aged 12 to 24. But Tasmanians under 18 are children. As such they have unique experiences of homelessness and require age-appropriate responses.
Their homelessness — and what is required to end it — is different to that of youth, adult and family homelessness.
In Tasmania, children as young as 10 are known to be homeless.
Anglicare research reported that in the 2015-2016 financial year, 342 unaccompanied children aged 10 to 17 sought help from homeless support services. There were others too, who did not approach services for assistance.
Instead, these uncounted children couch-surfed with family, neighbours, friends, and acquaintances.
Some slept in their school playgrounds, in gardens, in sports equipment sheds.
Child homelessness remains a concerning blind spot in most research, advocacy, practice and policy about homelessness.
This is in part due to the rapidly changing nature of homelessness and difficulties in accurately mapping who is homeless right now.
Today, at an event for Youth Homelessness Matters Day, a number of agencies and services will meet to consider the issue of child homelessness.
Questions discussed will include why is child homelessness happening in Tasmania? What are we currently doing about it? What do we need to change in order to end child homelessness in this state?
What we need are answers that centre on child rights and justice, not accusations and cost-shifting.
The persistent and growing presence of homeless children needs to be made a shared priority and responsibility in our state.
Ending child homelessness will take more than a one-off discussion. It will take more than emergency interventions into Tasmania’s housing crisis. It will even take more than putting a roof over the heads of unaccompanied homeless children.
What’s needed is age-appropriate, long-term, intensive care. Children unable to live at home require high-quality, stable, long-term residential care where they can be supported to heal from trauma and adversity. This care would also serve as the co-ordination point for reconnecting children with education, health services, and with their families. At present our youth homelessness services are not designed or funded to provide this. If we don’t want our children sleeping rough or staying in unsafe situations, we need to urgently think about the future of care provision for unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania.
April 18 was Youth Homelessness Matters Day and to mark the occasion SARC, the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children and Young People, and the Youth Network of Tasmania came together with government representatives, service providers and frontline staff to discuss unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania.
Check out the video and photos of interim Commissioner for Children and Young People David Clements and SARC researcher Catherine Robinson opening the forum in Hobart.