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 who are homeless.
There are currently no services in Canberra where these children can stay, if they don’t feel safe at home. They are instead forced to make difficult choices to sleep on the street or stay with strangers.
Family conflict can lead children to look for places other than home where they can feel safe, feel a sense of belonging, and escape the difficulties of their family home. This may lead them to disengagement from school, to continued homelessness, and involvement with the police and justice system. But this can be prevented if there are services to support families early, and to provide alternative safe accommodation for children who can’t stay at home.
The Youth Coalition has worked closely with other ACT peak bodies and services in the youth and homelessness sectors to progress a solution to child homelessness. This solution is outlined in our 2018 Submission to the upcoming ACT Budget, as well as in our Action Plan to Prevent Child Homelessness.
There are three important parts of a solution.
The first is to provide early support to children and their families, within their homes and communities. Assisting families to strengthen their relationships and to have access to other helpful supports may prevent children from becoming homeless.
The second part is to provide a short-term place for children to stay when they need to. This short-term respite accommodation would provide a ‘second bed’, allowing children to spend some nights at home and some away when they need a break, while the whole family also receives extra support. This model has worked in South Australia and it can work here in Canberra.
The third part is to provide longer term accommodation for children who cannot remain at home. In these cases, we need long-term, home-like environments that divert children away from homelessness, provide them with nurturing relationships while transitioning into adulthood, and which support them to maintain contact with their family if they would like to.
As seen in yesterday’s ABC News coverage, children are falling through the gaps of the current system. We are hopeful that the ACT Government will deliver funding in the upcoming ACT Budget to begin addressing this gap. We will continue to advocate for an evidence-based, appropriate service and system response that best meets the needs of children, young people and families in the ACT.
The whole Canberra community has a responsibility to support children and families, to provide warm and nurturing environments that allow children to grow, develop and be a part of our thriving community. If children and young people in Canberra are supported to have the best chances in life, our whole community benefits.
Watch the ABC News report from Wednesday 17 April here.