In Tasmania, as in other Australian states and territories, children can experience homelessness alone without a parent or guardian. Unaccompanied child homelessness is the outcome of a lack of care and effective guardianship in children’s lives.
Children who experience unaccompanied homelessness may sleep rough, couch surf with extended family, friends and acquaintances, or access Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS).
In 2018-19 Specialist Homelessness Services Collection data recorded that 14,456 children aged 10-17 presented alone to SHS in Australia, and 410 children aged 10-17 presented along to SHS in Tasmania. These numbers, however, are reflective of the number of SHS beds available, not the number of children in need.
A public health approach to ending unaccompanied child homelessness in Tasmania
This paper outlines the interventions required to prevent unaccompanied child homelessness or ensure it is a brief, supported and one-off experience.
This roadmap for ending unaccompanied child homelessness emerges from a suite of in-depth qualitative research projects (outlined below) designed to understand the personal and systemic vulnerability experienced by unaccompanied homeless children and their need for care, education, and mental health supports.
The impacts of COVID-19 have added another layer of complexity to the lives of unaccompanied homeless children. We highlight the need for a bespoke COVID-19 outbreak management plan for unaccompanied homeless children, including measures to support their health, wellbeing and school engagement during a public health emergency.
This project, undertaken in 2017, explored the key drivers of teen vulnerability in Tasmania. The project illustrates how personal and systemic vulnerability results in some older children falling between the homelessness and child protection systems. These children experience cycles of referral through services that were not designed to meet their unique and complex needs.
The project draws attention to the need to address gaps in the specialist adolescent support system in Tasmania. It also highlights the critical intermediary role of therapeutic, relationship-based care delivered through both outreach and residential service models.
This short project presents a focused discussion of the care and accommodation issues faced by children who experience homelessness alone.
The paper explains why the unique age-specific care and accommodation needs of unaccompanied homeless children remain largely unmet in Tasmania. The paper offers short descriptions of service models operating in other parts of Australia that provide medium and long-term accommodation to unaccompanied homeless children who are unable to be reunited with family.
This project, undertaken in 2018, further investigates barriers to school access and attendance and school bullying raised by children participating in Too hard? Highly vulnerable teens in Tasmania (2017). The project focuses on capturing an insight into the school re-engagement work undertaken with vulnerable children by community-based youth and homelessness support workers statewide.
The project illustrates the extraordinary battle both youth workers and vulnerable children face to remain connected with schools. In particular, it details the difficulties experienced by unaccompanied homeless children and the need for systemic support to assist them to rejoin education.
For further discussion on reforming school engagement with unaccompanied homeless children, see this introductory overview in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education:
This project was undertaken in 2020 to monitor the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania. It provided rapid reports from frontline community-based support workers in touch with unaccompanied homeless children during and following the declared public health emergency.
The report found that proactive offers of age-appropriate, safe accommodation were not extended to unaccompanied homeless children and specific supports for accessing COVID testing and isolation were not available. Further, the report documented the negative impacts of the withdrawal of face-to-face service provision for this uniquely vulnerable group of children.
Better, bigger, stronger: Responding to the mental health care needs of unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania
This project investigated the mental health care needs of children who experience homelessness alone. It built on key themes of complex trauma, the value of school supports, and access to health and mental health services.
The overarching aims of the project were:
For an overview of the relationship between homelessness and complex trauma, see this 2014 chapter ‘Trauma: A cause and consequence of homelessness’, in Homelessness in Australia: An introduction, New South Publishing.