‘Love, care, safety’ essential for vulnerable children
Urgent measures are required to protect unaccompanied homeless children in the event of another COVID-19 outbreak, according to new research from Anglicare Tasmania.
#StayHome? The impact of COVID-19 on unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania was released today by Anglicare CEO Dr Chris Jones and author Dr Catherine Robinson of our Social Action and Research Centre.
The report, based on interviews with Tasmanian front-line workers, highlights current gaps in the state’s ability to respond to the special needs of children under 16 who do not have a stable place to stay and are not accompanied by a parent or guardian.
It details the challenges for unaccompanied homeless children to comply with public health directives like mandatory stay-at-home, social distancing, hygiene, testing and self-isolation measures.
“Anglicare gathered this information to support efforts to protect these highly vulnerable children in the event of a future public health emergency,” said Dr Jones. “To be better prepared, we need to take immediate action in a number of areas.”
The key recommendations require a coordinated response from the Departments of Health, Education and Communities.
“What would make a significant difference is for the Department of Health to classify community-based child and youth services as ‘essential’ so they can keep delivering face-to-face support during an emergency,” said Dr Jones. “We also need ways to provide unaccompanied homeless children with access to emergency accommodation, transport to and from testing facilities, and support in the event of self-isolation.”
The report recommends increasing the capacity of the Department of Education to identify at-risk children and offer a fast-tracked response to support their ongoing education.
The Department of Communities is urged to implement medium-term residential care options statewide and address service gaps for children whose complex needs require longer term support.
The #StayHome? report drew on a series of interviews conducted by Dr Robinson with 24 frontline workers from 10 different community service organisations.
“These frontline workers did the very best they could to support these children during the crisis but the failure to declare all their services as ‘essential’ meant often their hands were tied,” she said.
“The workers draw a powerful picture of the harm and hardship experienced by unaccompanied homeless children. Even without the added pressure of a public health emergency, these children are in need of care and safety to heal from the impacts of family breakdown, abuse and abandonment, mental health issues, and drug and alcohol misuse,” said Dr Robinson.
This group of children is highly mobile and particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.
#StayHome? found that already this year, many unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania had experienced:
– a lack of access to appropriate, safe accommodation;
– reduced access to face-to-face service provision;
– reduced access to and engagement with education; and
– a deterioration in health, with higher levels of anxiety and in some cases an increase In drug use and associated criminal activity.
“Workers said children felt abandoned during the emergency period and this has affected the speed and quality of their re-engagement with services,” said Dr Robinson. “Children believe school and community services weren’t there for them when they most needed it.”
Dr Robinson said Anglicare’s research provided a clear vision on how to improve the lives of unaccompanied homeless children.
“Workers described what these children need: ‘love, care, safety … to feel like they actually have people in their corner’,” she said.
“Government can help make this happen by taking a public health approach to ending unaccompanied child homelessness in our state.”
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