New report reveals gaps in homelessness services for kids
Friday 22 June 2018
The NSW Ombudsman yesterday published a report showing serious gaps in law and policy for children experiencing homelessness, especially for kids also involved in out-of-home care.
In 2016-17 more than 5,000 children and young people (aged 12 to 18) presented on their own to a NSW homelessness service to seek support and a place to stay. More than one third of these children were under 16.
But due to inconsistent and incomplete data, the Ombudsman was unable to tell how many of these young people were also in statutory out-of-home care (let alone how many were Aboriginal and in out-of-home care).
This lack of data means that agencies including the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), the Ombudsman and us at AbSec are unable to measure the extent of the problem where kids in out-of-home care become homeless. We’re unable to tell if the number of kids leaving their care placements and becoming homeless has increased or decreased over time, and we have no visibility over what drives these kids to abandon their placements or what can be done about it.
“Neither FACS nor the sector were able to provide answers to a number of critical questions that we asked during our inquiry about [homeless] children – because basic data is either not being captured or is unreliable,” reads the Ombudsman’s report, More than shelter – addressing legal and policy gaps in supporting homeless children.
In addition to these problems with data, the Ombudsman identified several issues including the following:
- In the absence of a care and protection order, authority to make decisions about a homeless child remains with their parents, even if the child and parents are no longer in contact;
- When a child attempts to access local homelessness services, it’s often unclear which responsibilities lie with the specialist homelessness service and which responsibilities lie with FACS;
- The above lack of clarity over responsibilities and standards makes it hard for specialist homelessness services to collaborate with other government and non-government service providers (in areas such as education and health);
- There are no regulatory standards in place to govern the quality of homelessness supports given to children;
- FACS takes the lead case management responsibility for children aged 15 or younger who present to a homelessness service, as well as all kids in statutory out-of-home care – but competing priorities and tight resources mean that FACS can’t always provide these young people with sufficient attention, and homelessness service providers are concerned.
The Ombudsman’s report makes nine recommendations to FACS to resolve these problems. AbSec endorses these recommendations and joins Homelessness NSW and Yfoundations (the peak body for youth homelessness services) in calling on the NSW Government to urgently implement them.
AbSec’s policies for Aboriginal young people facing homelessness
Here at AbSec, we advocate for the following supports for Aboriginal young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness:
- Government investment in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, enabling our organisations to establish and build up specialist homelessness services
- Aboriginal-led, designed and delivered programs to provide culturally appropriate and specialised support
- A holistic approach to delivering homelessness services, linked in with broader Aboriginal child and family services – so it’s easy for a young person to access all the services they need without going to multiple providers
We also want to see improved transitional planning for young people exiting out-of-home care, so they can go onto a life of independence without experiencing homelessness. This should include a focus on developing practical life skills (such as domestic skills and household budgeting), referrals to relevant services to provide support, and the provision of aftercare for Aboriginal young people by Aboriginal agencies.