These children are under 16, homeless and unaccompanied, which means they do not have a parent or guardian present. Whilst children do also experience homelessness with their families, this is a group of children who must deal with their homelessness alone.
Maybe they could find a friend’s couch to sleep on or maybe they will head home, back to the unsafe environment that may have forced them into homelessness in the first place.
It is these older children, typically aged ten to sixteen, among the most vulnerable in our community, who are often caught in the gap between children protection and homeless services, neither of which are resourced to meet their unique needs.
Today, Social Action and Research Centre researcher Catherine Robinson is releasing her latest paper, titled Who Cares? Supported accommodation for unaccompanied children.
This review examines how the accommodation needs of unaccompanied children aged under 16 have been articulated and addressed in a number of Australian jurisdictions.
The paper follows from Catherine’s July release of Too Hard? Highly vulnerable teens in Tasmania, which found that highly vulnerable teens struggle to find safe accommodation, and that a completed circle of care was needed to ensure they do not fall through the cracks.
In Who Cares?, Catherine explores policy, programs and services offered in other Australian states and territories which aim to better respond to the “specific shortage of medium and long-term care for older children unable to return home”.
“Without strong policy which addresses the political stand-off but practical overlap between child protection and youth homelessness services, services that meet the needs of unaccompanied older children will not flourish and very serious duty of care issues will remain both for child protection and homelessness services,” Catherine explains in the paper.
Across Australia, each state and territory offers a different range of services for unaccompanied children experiencing homelessness.
While some states are better than others, Tasmania arguably provides poorly for those under 16. Unlike other states, it has no policy, programs or specific services targeted to the long-term care of unaccompanied older children.
Further, unlike some other states, it has not developed good practice guidelines to support those crisis youth homeless services in their vital work with unaccompanied children.
As Catherine says in the paper, these children do not have accommodation needs, they have care needs.
“The review makes clear the long-standing policy, program and service gaps relating to the care needs of children who fall outside the threshold for a child protection response,” she said.
“There seem to be wide-ranging views on the extent to which the Child Safety Service has responsibility for the care and protection of unaccompanied children who experience risk independently outside the home or outside relationships with parents or carers.
“A conceptual and cultural shift is required if the unique care needs of unaccompanied children are to be met.”
Each day, Anglicare community services worker Alisha Turner works with vulnerable Tasmanians, many who are still teenagers but have overcome barriers than many adults will never encounter.
Through her own work, Alisha’s on-the-ground experiences mirror the findings in Who Cares?.
“Their resilience is amazing, it’s incredible really, but deep down they’re hurting,” she said.
“They’ve just been rejected by their parents but they manage to go to school, they manage to have a smile on their face, they have friends and they function.
“If they’ve got somewhere stable to live and they’re being supported, their outcomes will be a lot better.”
But if you are 14 years old, you cannot live at home, and longer-term accommodation only takes people older than 16, where do you go?
“The idea is to work with clients and it’s about fostering self-determination – we don’t do things for our clients, we give them the pathways and the tools to build resilience and skills,” Alisha said.
“We go to schools and do a lot of advocacy, especially with the young people it’s a bit like being a proxy parent. We are basically just trying to stabilise their education and their home life.
“I do a lot of nurturing that relationship because a child that’s housed it a lot easier for me to work with than a child that isn’t.”
Catherine’s review calls for recognition that unaccompanied older children require dedicated care through:
- Strong policy
- Program innovation
- Good practice guidelines for Specialist Homelessness Services accommodating under 16s
- Service design or redesign
“It is the alignment between policy, program and practice that will ultimately determine how effectively this hidden cohort can be responded to not just in Tasmania but nationally,” she says.
- Australian Human Rights Commission’s Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Tasmania’s Youth at Risk Strategy
- Yfoundation’s Good Practice Guidelines
"Children do not have accommodation needs, they have care needs." Be sure to take a look at SARC researcher Catherine Robinson's latest report, Who Cares?, a review of how the accommodation needs of unaccompanied children aged under 16 are addressed in Australia.Read it here: http://bit.ly/2kUVFCy
Posted by Social Action and Research Centre on Monday, 11 December 2017