Starting school behind

There are Tasmanian children unprepared for the school year because they’re focused on more basic needs – like where to sleep, what to eat and how to stay safe.

“Right now, many of us are organising children’s lunch-boxes and drink bottles, and purchasing books and uniforms.” said Catherine Robinson, a researcher with Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre. “But it’s a different story for some young people whose circumstances mean they won’t be ready for school or able to fully engage with education this year”.

Our research highlights the experiences of highly vulnerable children in Tasmania and, in the lead-up to the state election, Anglicare urges all candidates to commit to clear action.

“Around 340 unaccompanied children seek help from homelessness services in a year, but it’s likely there are others who never come to the attention of services and whose situations remain hidden,” said Dr Robinson. Unaccompanied children are those who arrive at a refuge without a parent or guardian. Two-thirds of these children are girls.

Anglicare’s research draws attention to the welfare of children aged between 10-16 years and not in the care of the state’s Child Safety Service. “These are children who don’t meet the current threshold for a child protection response,” said Dr Robinson. “However, they have experienced significant harm and adversity, often beginning in early childhood”.

Anglicare calls on decision-makers to improve the level of care available to all highly vulnerable children in Tasmania. “During the crucial years of their development, these children have had persistent exposure to physical and emotional harm, and face extreme adversity during adolescence including homelessness and difficulty accessing mental health support and education,” said Dr Robinson.

“While crisis accommodation is vital, vulnerable young people also need access to intensive, long-term, relationship-based care,” she said. Medium to long-term accommodation is a priority, particularly for children who are not old enough for independent living but who are unable to return home.

Anglicare’s research also recommends greater investment in trauma-specific mental health services, residential drug detox and rehabilitation, and alternative education options.

Community Services Worker, Alisha Turner said vulnerable children often missed many days of school, and traumatic experiences affected their ability to engage in the classroom.

“We are seeing young people who don’t have stable accommodation and no access to funds,” she said. “We can help with basics such as food, toiletries, bus tickets and school uniforms, but what they really need is ongoing care”.

“These young people live in precarious situations, so we give them mobile phones and credit so they can stay in contact with us,” said Ms Turner. “We want all children to be safe and appropriately cared for, which is why we’re here today advocating for these much-needed support services”.

Anglicare has provided all candidates in the state election with a policy position about ways to more effectively respond to the needs of highly vulnerable children.

For information about Anglicare’s research and to read the policy position paper visit our Social Action Research Centre.

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