Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, REPORT
1 Nov 2011
Children are emerging as the new face of homelessness in Australia. Even more troubling is the fact that of the 84,000 Australian children who tried to get help from a homeless service last year more than half were turned away.
"There is little consistency in the services and support provided to children who become homeless when their families do," says Professor Morag McArthur, Director of the Institute for Child Protection Studies (ICPS) at the Australian Catholic University (ACU).
She goes on to say that whatever help these children end up with is purely by chance.
In a just-released wide-ranging report entitled "Seen and Heard: Putting Children on the Homelessness Agenda," it was found that of the children who accompanied their parent or guardian to one of Australia's homelessness services last year, almost 72% were under the age of 10.
Professor McArthur, who has been involved in producing this latest study on homelessness and children, points out that it is two years since the release of The Road Home, the Federal Government's White Paper on ways to tackle homelessness. But since then, she says, little action has been taken, and the Government has still not set clear national targets.
She also criticises not only the lack of any real increase in resources by the Government to address homelessness in Australia, but the fact there is still no consistent national framework.
"The impact on homelessness in children is especially disturbing. It has a profoundly negative impact on their health and wellbeing, their engagement with school, their capacity to learn and their connection to friends, family and the community," she says.
The "Seen and Heard: Putting Children on the Homeless Agenda" study is an initiative of ICPS in conjunction with the Australian Centre for Child Protection, Hanover Welfare Services, Mission Australia and the Social Policy Research Centre.
In its conclusions, the study recommends the Government implement a program of prevention including early intervention and better support for homeless children.
The study also calls for an increase in the supply of affordable housing and would like to see dedicated children's workers at all specialist homeless services. In addition the study reccomends prioritised housing support for families, particularly those with young children and a national framework to guarantee consistency and quality of care for homeless children.
Specific national targets for reducing the number of homeless children across Australia must also be set.
"Homelessness has a flow on effect in children's lives and it is essential they get a strong and targeted response from the system," Professor McArthur says. "State and federal governments have done some great work around homelessness, but too often the focus has been on single people, not on families with children."