Homeless Children Left in the Cold by Patchwork Reform
27 October 2011 at 2:08 pm
One of the country’s largest providers of accommodation and support services for homeless people says Australia’s homeless children are being let down by a patchwork approach to their welfare and a lack of consistent support.
Mission Australia’s CEO, Toby Hall, said that two years after the launch of the Federal Government’s White Paper on tackling homelessness, The Road Home, which promised a “specific focus on their needs”, too little was being done to address the plight of homeless children.
Hall says the White Paper called for a specific focus on the needs of Australia’s homeless children but there hasn’t been enough action.
Mission Australia along with Hanover Welfare Services, the Social Policy Research Centre, the Australian Centre for Child Protection and the Institute of Child Protection Studies have published a snapshot report on the plight of homeless children called Seen and heard: putting children on the homelessness agenda.
Drawing on research, including among frontline staff across 107 specialist homelessness services, it found that homeless children and families encounter three main challenges: accessing services, exiting the homelessness system, and dealing with the effects of homelessness on children.
Hall says while the national homelessness strategy has resulted in a considerable injection of funds and positive activity in a range of areas, the most vulnerable members of the homeless population – children who are homeless – have largely been overlooked.
He says there have been no clear national targets set for reducing the number of homeless children, no consistent national framework to address their needs and not enough in the way of increased resources.
In 2009-10 more than 84,000 children (under 18) accessed a specialist homelessness service with a parent or guardian – equivalent to one in 60 Australian children and one in every 38 Australian children four years or younger.
Hall says these figures are likely to underestimate the number of homeless children as it only counts those who’ve accessed or tried to access a service.
Despite the demand, 82 per cent of couples with children and 67 per cent of sole parent families were turned away because of the system’s lack of capacity.
Mission Australia has called on Federal and State/Territory governments to immediately pursue a range of actions to assist homeless children, including:
- State and territory governments to prioritise housing support for homeless families, especially those with pre-school and school-aged children.
- A national framework to address the needs of homeless children to guarantee consistency and quality of care.
- Specific national targets to be set for reducing the number of homeless children.
- Additional resources to ensure that all children entering the homelessness system are properly assessed in order to receive the most appropriate support.
- Dedicated children’s workers to be introduced at all specialist homeless services that work with children.
- Expansion of existing programs that have proved effective for homeless children and their families – for example, the Household Organisational Management Expenses (HOME) program, a national initiative that assists families with personal or financial challenges to maintain their tenancy or home ownership.
- Continued efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Hall says he acknowledges that some states – South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria – have made a start in addressing specific services to children.
But, he says, New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and the NT are lagging behind.