Causes for children homelessness.
Social Issues and measures of intervention.
The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA).
National Homeless Strategy.
National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).
Children and teenagers experiencing homelessness in Australia are an especially vulnerable population. These are the formative years of an individual’s life and serve as a critical phase for both mental as well as physical development. Housing is essential for the health and wellbeing of children; however, access to adequate housing is a dream for many children in Australia. Every night, about forty-four thousand Australian children are found without a place they can call home (Mission Australia, 2016). While many children go homeless along with their families, it is also important to take into account that there are also many who go homeless as a result of a family breakdown. These children undergo multiple struggles that the government of Australia continues to try and address.
A majority of the homeless children in Australia are below the age of twelve. Children who experience such extreme conditions are not only at risk in terms of health but also in terms of mental health. This, in turn, has multiple negative social outcomes that impact society at large. Having a vulnerable group of people in society eventually makes the entire society/country vulnerable. Hence, proper and adequate measures are often taken by the government in an attempt to deal with the issue of homelessness among children and teenagers in Australia. It has been reported that most homeless children are either living in severely crowded settlements or in supported accommodation for the homeless (The Salvation Army, 2020). This paper examines the causes, impacts, and possible outcomes and solutions to the problem of homelessness among children and teenagers in Australia. Here the literature review is divided into several themes to shed light on this critical issue.
While some children experience homelessness together with their families, others experience it alone. Also, children who are school going or in preschool and simultaneously undergoing homelessness are more likely to experience mental health problems than those who have proper housing (AIHW, 2020). Young children belonging to alternate family types are at higher risk of becoming homeless than those conventional nuclear families. Additionally, Indigenous Australians are at higher risk for homelessness than non-Indigenous groups.
Single parents and blended families where children either live with one parent (or with one parent and a step-parent) is one of the key reasons for homelessness among children. Conflict in such families is more likely where the child may either feel unwanted or simply feel resentful and run away from home. These disputes occur between the child and the step-parent where issues would most likely be household rules, personality differences, issues related to lifestyle, etc. (Australian Government, 2014). Apart from family conflict, family violence is another reason for youth homelessness.
Family abuse can cause a child to develop anger issues and act out of impulse. Also, it impacts the cognitive abilities of the child/teenager. Teenagers undergo heavy hormonal developments and changes in their bodies and so facing something as serious as an abusive family may drive them to the edge and make them run away from home. Also, in cases where the child is experiencing homelessness with a single parent, the mother may have run away as a result of being fed up and exhausted both psychically and mentally. Mothers escaping family abuse sometimes run away for the betterment of their child to protect the child from an abusive family and want to provide a better environment for the child to grow up in.
Children in violent families or those experiencing abuse at home are highly likely to run away from it. Family violence includes controlling behaviors, threatening, sexual assault, social isolation, damage to property, psychological torment, or any other behaviors that would make a child live in fear (Hopestreet, 2020). Additionally, violence may stem from the child him/herself. Young perpetrators are often associated with drug abuse which causes them to have mood swings which eventually results in fights and violence at home.
Violence can come in the form of verbal abuse as well. While some children may experience psychical abuse and assault, others may be harassed to the edge of escaping and running away from home. In the case of extended family visits or step-parents, young boys and girls can also be victims of sexual harassment (sometimes even on a regular basis) where they may not be able to express their experiences to their parents with the fear of being judged or not heard. Hence, they may feel it is best to run away from home to escape the continuous sexual assault.
The Indigenous population of Australia is very geographically diverse. Indigenous people are spread out in various parts of Australia such as New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. Much like the cause in non-Indigenous communities, the leading cause of homeless Indigenous Australians is due to family violence and/or alcohol/drug abuse (Homeless NSW, n.d.). Also, homelessness in the Indigenous community, however, cannot be understood with proper knowledge on the impact of colonialism. Homeless Indigenous families result in homeless indigenous children and teenagers. In fact, housing is seen as one of the key persistent inequalities between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. Lack of adequate housing and severely crowded community houses may for Indigenous youth can also be seen as ‘invisible homelessness’ (Lowell, 2018).
Homelessness is often associated with higher risks of being involved in criminal activities (Polcin, 2016)). At a young age, children and teenagers undergo multiple hormonal changes which often leave them with mood swings and depression. These emotional rollercoasters result in fights with family and friends leaving the teenager feeling unwanted and miserable. Hence, in an attempt to attain temporary relief from these confusing changes, teenagers may turn to wrongful ways to cope. Turning to alcohol or drug abuse to escape these feelings is a common trend. Also, in many low-income families, children and teenagers often have to take up family responsibility at their young age. This can be stressful and in such cases, too, children can turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Becoming addicted then leads to a waste of money and not being able to cope up with family expenses. This can then result in homelessness of not just the child/teenager but also his/her entire family (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).
Studies have found that in cases where youth employment rose sharply, so did youth homelessness. The topic of youth unemployment has received fairly less recognition in the context of homelessness although the leading cause for youth homelessness has been known to be poverty and financial stress (Cooper, 2017). Additionally, youth have to sustain themselves becomes difficult in the family of imprisoned parents. Not having parents or guardians to provide for a child ultimately leaves the child in deep poverty and, eventually, homeless.
In poorer communities or families who do not have a stable income, the children often have to start working at an early stage. However, when jobs become unavailable and an income is not sustained, the child or teenager may become depressed and turn to drugs and alcohol for temporary relief which may eventually result in them being homeless. Another aspect of this may be that since youth unemployment is such a major issue and in a family where the sole breadwinner is the teenager, the entire family (along with the child or teenager) may become homeless due to financial constraints. While some have to sell their houses, others simply cannot afford rent.
Some Australian studies regarding youth homelessness have found higher than usual levels of psychological disorder among homeless children and teenagers. This is mainly because of having experienced violence, drug abuse, and increased reported levels of family conflict. However, it is important to understand the relationship between drug abuse and homelessness and how it may at times be a complex issue to understand. Drug abuse can be seen in two lights. On the one hand, it can be the cause of homelessness, and, on the other, it can be the result of homelessness (Cooper, 2017).The nature and influence of drugs and alcohol abuse are twofold, depending on the context and situation of the homeless child. Children and teenagers may turn to alcohol and drugs to suppress their feelings, especially when facing homelessness independently (without family). In other words, alcohol and drug abuse can then be said to arise from ill mental health.
Trauma naturally precedes homelessness. Not only is the process of integrating into a homeless situation stressful but the experiences young children and teenagers having while being homeless are in itself often very traumatizing. Traumatic experiences and many psychological disorders are known to be caused by homelessness (Cooper, 2017). Cooper (2017) further explains that Aboriginals re more likely to experience homelessness not only due to drug abuse, violence in the family, etc. but also because they are far less likely to gain access to private housing. The issue of homelessness among the Aboriginal youth is something that ought to be understood in conjunction with a plethora of culturally sensitive matters which do not apply to non-Aborigines.
Children who suffer from homelessness due to lack of finances continue to suffer by either having to drop out of school altogether or not being able to afford extracurricular activities. This has a negative impact on the education of the youth. Additionally, homeless students do not have access to proper infrastructure to study at home or to complete assignments. Again, this has a negative impact on the overall education of the child. Children suffering from homelessness also tend not to addend school frequently and this disrupts their schooling.
In cases where children are homeless along with their families, it has been found that the frequency of changing schools is a lot higher. Changing schools not only sets the child 6 months behind to recover academically but it also poses limitations in terms of adaptation to the new environment. Children have to re-establish relationships with teachers and other school children. Studies have, in fact, confirmed that children with stable housing are able to engage better with a performance at school (Moore & Mcarthur 2011).
Youth suffering from homelessness often resort to community housing and other such shelters. These shelters are either overcrowded or have poor infrastructure. Severely overcrowded shelters are poorly maintained and facilities are used all those who reside in it resulting in questionable hygiene standards. Staying in severely overcrowded shelters make children and teenagers vulnerable to infections and disease spread. Not only are these children at a higher risk of getting infections and diseases but the treatment thereof also becomes impossible since they do not have any financial aid. The deterioration of their health is then inevitable. Not just poor hygiene, but some homeless children and teenagers also suffer from illness borne out of poor nutrition and alcohol and drug abuse. These health problems can typically be short-lived or even long-lasting (Human Rights, n.d.).
Children who are facing homelessness independently are at a higher risk or giving in to the pressure of being forced into getting involved in alcohol, drugs, or even prostitution. Not only that, but they may also have to resort to other forms of crime out to the need to survive and sustain themselves. Homeless youth are exploited for criminal activity, consuming or selling drugs, and pushed into pornography or prostitution (Cuscik &Martin, 2003). For many homeless children and teenagers, however, substance abuse occurs as a result of mental illnesses. People suffering from any form of mental illness tend to resort to various kinds of street drugs as an inappropriate way of self-medication.
Additionally, homeless youth facing both substance abuse problems along with mental illness face additional obstacles in recovery (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). The immediate impact of homelessness on children is connected to their education and studies. Homeless children are more likely to drop out of school compared to children belonging to stable homes. However, this issue is not as prevalent as the rate as higher rates of children's school participation has been found as a result of community support which ensures that homeless children have access to proper education (Flatau et al, n.d.).
Also, this continues to contribute to the vicious cycle of unemployment and poverty which eventually becomes a social issue. Uneducated children turn in to uneducated youth which means these individuals will grow up to unemployable which essentially produces generation after generation of poverty (Flatau et al, n.d.). Government intervention on the ground level is essential; however, the root cause also needs to be addressed. The government may put in place various policies to de-clutter public housing or develop projects for more community homes, however, ten root problem that addresses the reason why so many children and teen Australians lose their homes remains unaddressed. Over the years, the government of Australia has planned and developed multiple policies, agreements, and various other intervention methods to address the issue of youth homelessness in the country. Youth homeliness is a prevailing issue across the country and corrective measures have been out in place to address the issue and reduce and prevent homelessness altogether.
By merely providing shelter for children who have run away from home due to domestic violence does not prevent or remedy the root issue of domestic violence. By not addressing the root issue, more and more Australians children and teenagers find themselves on the streets each year. There is a need for the intervention of social work to restore families and rehabilitate family relationships. Social work can be a useful tool to dive into the psychological issues faced by families and address the issues of violence or other reasons why families (even those who step-parents) are not getting along. By taking the help of social workers, children and parents can come to a mutual understanding that works for all members of the family; this will prevent the possibility of the child running away from home. There are intervention methods that have been implemented to address the issue of homelessness from the root level to ensure that the problem is taken care of from the roots.
Homelessness is an important issue that affects many Australian youths. The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) aims to address the issue collectively instead of separating it facilities for children and adults. The NHHA requires all states and territories to be accountable for housing policies and strategies and contribute towards improved quality of data collection. These strategies are meant to cover a range of issues and address a range of priorities in order to reform or contribute to a reduction in homelessness.
This agreement is in line with the ACU community engagement principles because the ACU community engagement activities are aimed to affirm or restoring human dignity through "sustainable and reciprocal collaborations with communities who experience disadvantage or marginalization" (Australian Catholic University, n.d.). The five community engagement principles of ACU are; building connections, acting with humility, affirming dignity, and developing an understanding. The NHHA engages the principle of affirming dignity because this principle recognizes that all human beings are made equally in front of God and so honoring their dignity entails ensuring that their fundamental human rights are met. Housing is a fundamental human right so by developing strategies to address the issue of homeless, this is in agreement with the policy.
The National Homeless Strategy was launched in 1999 with the aim to reduce homelessness and prevent its increase as well. This strategy aimed to address the issue of homeless from the grassroots by implementing strategies focused on working together in social coalition to prevent homelessness. Also, the strategy involved early intervention and support in crisis transition. However, this strategy did not focus mainly on children and teenagers but rather aimed to address the issue of homelessness holistically to address all social and age groups who are either already facing homeliness or are at the verge of it.
Early intervention strategies under the strategy include the following; increasing support for people in both public and private rental housing, helping a maximum of 9 000 young people between the age of 12 and 18 to remain in contact with their families, helping up to 2250 more families to remain housed (those who are at risk of becoming houseless), helping women and children experiencing domestic violence to remain safe n their family home and not have to leave or escape into homelessness, providing community based mental health services which is under the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program (PHAMs), and establishing a proper network of 90 Community Engagement Officers to better the access to Centerline services for people in the community who are at risk of being homeless (Homeless Hub, 2019).
This strategy can be related to all five of the ACU’s Community Engagement Principles because not only does it pursue justice through acting with humility, building connections by engaging various groups and community members, but also affirms human dignity by providing housing help to the homeless, providing mental health services to the homeless or those at the verge of homelessness, and also recruits staff from the homeliness community to help them with employment. The National Homeless Strategy addresses the issue of homeliness from the root level. However, it does not focus primarily on children and teenagers, just as the other intervention measures mentioned in this paper.
The National Partnership Agreement funds approximately 180 programs and services for people who are already experiencing homelessness or are at the risk of becoming homeless. The programs funded by the NPAH help around 80 000 people every year and provides employment of over 3000 staff (Homeless Australia, 2017). This agreement is between the Commonwealth of Australia and the States and Territories which are the State of New South Wales, the State of Queensland, the State of Victoria, the State of Western Australia, State of South Australia, State of Tasmania, The Northern Territory of Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory (Homeless Australia, 2017).
By entering this agreement, the Commonwealth and State Territories and States recognize the common interest in addressing and improving outcomes in the area of homelessness in the country. This agreement aims at reducing homelessness by prioritizing groups that are affected the most by it such as women and children, people experiencing or having experienced family or domestic violence, and the youth. Also, it aims to address homeliness among the Indigenous community and others. Providing mental health services, and housing to rough sleepers.
This agreement is in line with all five of ACU’s Community Engagement Principles. By creating multiple programs and taking on board all government officials from territories and states, it addresses the issue of homelessness by building connections with community organizations and joining forces to combat the issue of homeliness throughout the country. It also acts with humility because it strives to address the issue without degrading the homeless and without looking down on them, it perusing justice in restoring the inequality faced by the homeless due to various social and economic factors.
Youth homelessness in Australia is a nationwide problem and continues to affect the lives of thousands of children and teenagers across the country. While cases may differ, the leading cause behind youth homelessness has been found to be domestic violence which drives children to leave their family homes. Youth homelessness in cases where the child is not accompanied by his/her family turn out to have a more severe impact on the child than in cases where the family altogether is homeless or the child is homeless with a single parent (usually the mother). Other causes for youth homelessness include conflict with the child and step parents, alcoholism, financial problems of the family, etc.
Youth homelessness impacts not many the individual facing the problem but it has a larger impact on the society as well. The immediate impact on the individual are issues such as leaving or dropping out of school, alcohol or drug abuse, resorting to crime and pornography to sustain themselves, etc. These issues that the children and teenagers face by being homeless turn into social issues as they increase crime rates, drug abuse, and rough sleeping on Australian streets and footpaths. The government has taken up various intervention measures and strategies to address the issue of youth homelessness s for years on end. However, the issue has not been completely dealt with as more and more Australian children and teenagers are being found on the streets with no place to call home.
Community houses are either overcrowded or do not cater to the special needs of certain groups such as the Aboriginal youth. Also, the over crowdedness of community homes results in various infections and diseases due to questionable hygiene standards, which, in turn, becomes another social issue. To tackle the issue, however, various intervention methods such as the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, National Homeless Strategy, and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness have been implemented keeping well in like with the ACU’s Five Community Engagement Principles of developing understanding, building connections, acting with humility, affirming dignity, and pursing justice.
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Australian Government.(2014). Youth homelessness in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/housing-support/publications-articles/homelessness-youth/youth-homelessness-in-australia?HTML
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Cusick, L. & Martin, A. (2003). Vulnerbility and involvement in drug use and sex work.
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Human Rights.(n.d.).The concept of youth homelessness. Retrieved from https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Chapter%207.pdf
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Moore, T. &Mcarthur, M. (2011). ‘Good for kids’: children who have been homeless talk about school. Australian Journal of Education, 55(2), 147-160.
National Coalition for the homeless.(2009). Substance abuse and homelessness. Retrieved from https://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.pdf
Polcin, D. (2016). Co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems among homeless persons: Suggestions for research and practice. Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, 25(1), 1-10.
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