If a child under the age of 16 is homeless or at risk of homelessness in the ACT they are highly vulnerable and at risk of harm, because there are no accommodation services in the ACT for these children.
For close to 20 years, the ACT child, youth and homelessness sectors have called for action to address the gap in accommodation services for children under the age of 16. Other Australian states have led the way in developing supportive accommodation services for children at risk of homelessness.
The Youth Coalition, Families ACT, ACTCOSS and ACT Shelter have presented the ACT Government with a clear solution, based on the most up-to-date research and evidence across Australia. We expect that they will now be able to move forward to address this issue, in partnership with the Canberra community.
Children who experience homelessness can come from all walks of life. There is rarely one single cause for a child to become homeless, but a range of complex factors that interact together and put pressure on families. Local and national research consistently shows that we need to support children and families early to prevent homelessness from occurring, while also providing appropriate accommodation supports for children who cannot stay at home.
Youth Workers’ Perspectives on Youth Homelessness for 12-15 year olds in the Australian Capital Territory
Youth Coalition of the ACT, 2018
“Nowhere to go”: Investigating homelessness experiences of 12-15 year olds in the Australian Capital Territory
Institute of Child Protection Studies, ACU, 2018
This proposed service model responds to the gap in appropriate services and supports, including
accommodation, for children aged 8-15 who are experiencing or at risk of significant harm and/or
homelessness. Critically, while addressing the shortfall in accommodation services for children under the age of 16, it also responds to the primary risk factor leading to child and youth homelessness:
family conflict and breakdown. In addition to homelessness, family conflict and breakdown can lead to a range of other negative outcomes, such as disengagement from education, including school suspension, and possible involvement with statutory child protection and the criminal justice system.
The critical need for services to respond to the existing relationships that children have
with their families, across the spectrum of family involvement, is at the core of this service
model. Its central aim is to strengthen family functioning, including parenting capacity and
parent-child relationships. This aims to support children to remain with their family, while
also providing safe temporary and long-term accommodation options where necessary.
The model promotes the following outcomes:
• Early intervention to prevent youth homelessness
• Reducing family conflict and breakdown to improve the well-being of children and
• Changing life trajectories away from statutory services, including child protection and
the criminal justice system
• Reducing education disengagement, including in transitions from primary to high school, and to reduce school suspensions
• Building the capacity of the youth and family sector to engage in family-focused youth work
While local and national research in this area mainly focuses on young people aged 12-15, this service model recognises the importance of also responding to the needs of children in the ‘middle years’ (8-12 years). Children in this age group experience unique challenges and transitions, and these middle years represent a critical opportunity to prevent negative outcomes during adolescence, including youth homelessness.