Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Meeting

Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from around Australia had their latest twice-yearly gathering in Sydney on 7 and 8 November.

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) promotes children’s rights and participation and ensures the best interests of children are considered in public policy and program development across Australia.

Topics at the meeting included social inclusion, Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander young people and the justice system, children leaving out-of-home care and information sharing and the Commonwealth Privacy Act.

Details of discussions and actions are in the meeting communique PDF.

For further information on the ACCG and the work of Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from across Australia, please contact the ACCG National Convenor, Elizabeth Fraser, on 07 3211 6992.

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Designing for leaving care

As the 2010 academic year winds down, 80 third-year architecture students at UniSA will be finalising designs that are tailored to the specific needs of young people who are exiting the care system.

Lecturer in Architecture, Angelique Edmonds, explains that this year’s design studio exercise is a repeat of last year’s successful and award winning project that challenged architecture students to use their design capabilities to address an important social need.

‘We partnered with two community organisations and a private developer to identify three real sites which became the briefs to which the student had to respond.

‘Students heard about the circumstances of young people leaving care from the Guardian, Pam Simmons, and from two young women who had transitioned out of care. They were also given eight client profiles, in the form of narratives, of real but anonymous young people and their situations.’

Architecture student Tess Pritchard, now in her masters year, recalls how the lives of her young clients were much different to her own.

‘Many were isolated with no feeling of belonging anywhere and with very little money and support from family and friends.  I had no idea about what they were experiencing.

‘In my design I tried to provide good private living spaces where they could develop their independent living skills as well as common areas where they could come together to build social networks.

‘I provided a garden space where the residents could grow food for their own use or to sell at a nearby market.’

Former CREATE worker Emily Rozee, who presented to the students, said that young people rarely have the opportunity to provide direct input into the design and development of their physical environment.

‘Many of the UniSA students had not previously been aware of the issues faced by young people who are unable to live with their birth family.’

The 2009 pilot project received a UniSA Chancellor’s Award endorsing it as ‘an example of a best practice community engagement activity’.

Are we teaching children and young people in state care to be homeless?

Amanda Shaw - Senior Advocate

Children and young people are brought into the care and protection system through no fault of their own and have experienced abuse and neglect. Collectively, it is our responsibility to ensure that each child is provided with care, stability, security and safety to ensure their physical, cultural, emotional and social development.

The challenges facing care and protection agencies are well documented. There are increasing numbers of child abuse and neglect notifications, increasing numbers of children in state care and little choice in out of home care options.

It is a sad reality that some children and young people in state care are homeless; some use (what was called the) Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services and some do not have safe, secure and permanent placements. Actual numbers are difficult to report but the monitoring of the circumstances for children and young people in care by the South Australian Guardian for Children and Young People provides anecdotal evidence of homelessness.

Early in my career I met a number of young people under the guardianship of the Minister who were temporarily accommodated in SAAP services. Additionally, CREATE’s Report Card 2009[1] shows that more than a third of young people leaving care at the age of 18 years are homeless at some point within a year.

[Read the rest of this article in a PDF file.]

[1] McDowall, J.J. (2009) CREATE Report Card 2009 – Transitioning from Care: Tracking Progress. Sydney: CREATE Foundation.

Preventing homelessness in young people after care

About one hundred young people each year ‘graduate’ from state care to independence, most at age 18. Their move to independence is about three to five years earlier than their age peers. From research interstate, it is likely that more than half of them will not have completed their schooling to Year 12. About one in three of the young women will have children of their own or be pregnant by the time they turn 20, compared with two per cent in the general population.

As you would expect, the group of young people leaving care are not homogenous.  Some are doing really well, some are struggling. Almost one in four is an Aboriginal young person and a growing number, though still relatively small, are refugees from Southern and Central Africa and the Middle East.   Just under half are young women.

To read more on homlessness and the wellbeing of young people after graduating from care, download a PDF of the Guardian’s paper Preventing homelessness in young people after care .

“There’s no point in her being at school…” homelessness and children

The following are excerpts from an address to the Homelessness SA forum on the impact of homelessness on children, 31 March 2006.

There’s no point in her being at school, it’s not like you can sit her down at night and read her books, with this stuff going on around us.

homeless family in a private hotel

Pam Simmons Guardian

Children come into care to protect them from harm. Their families cannot care for them for a variety of reasons. This ranges from parents who cannot get enough support to care for a child with profound disabilities to parents who seriously and criminally abuse their children. The contributing factors for Aboriginal children are steeped in their families’ history of separation and alienation.

It is of no surprise that the factors that place families under stress and lead to the separation of children from their care are similar to the factors that contribute to homelessness. These are domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, intellectual disability, low incomes, transience and poor family supports, among others. There is significant overlap between homelessness and children being in care.

You’re just a totally isolated unit as a family, friendship just doesn’t come into it. Even the kids, they’re like ships in the night, you know? None of us have any relationships, it’s really weird.

homeless family

 The impact of homelessness on children is huge but has largely been overlooked. In the past we have treated the family as a homogenous unit with the parents representing and protecting the interests of the children. It is only since the 1980s with growth in the study of children, and the consequent ‘discovery’ that they were social actors, and the commitment to children’s rights that we have started to consider the needs of children as linked to but also distinct from the family as a whole.

From a child’s perspective, homelessness may look like this: losing pets, leaving treasures behind, being in strange and threatening environments, being separated from friends and sometimes siblings, changing or missing school, falling behind, insufficient food, persistent illness with no treatment and adults distracted all the time.

It happened lots. I just got used to it. They’d just come and pick us up and take us when mum was going psycho.

In their own words, Create June 2004

Children in care who are often changing placement are homeless but have not been considered as such. It is not our notion of what homelessness is. But the definition of ‘secondary’ homelessness covers such circumstances – constantly moving between relatives or friends because of no home of their own.

We do know that young people who are in state care use homelessness services. In South Australia at 30 June 2005 there were 190 young people on care and protection orders and in independent living arrangements such as private board, renting on their own, engaged in a program of learning to live independently and living with their partner and children. It has been estimated but not confirmed that 100 of these young people drift in and out of homelessness services. We don’t have accurate data here.

There are many things we still don’t know. We don’t know how many families were homeless when the children were removed. We don’t know how many children have been separated from their parents because residential services couldn’t accommodate children. We don’t know how well our homelessness services meet the needs of children or how safe children are while there. We don’t know how many homeless people are care leavers but we suspect it is a significant number. We don’t know how, or if, homelessness services should be integrated with alternative care.

We do know though that child safety starts with awareness of children and empowerment of children. So we can proceed without perfect knowledge to improve our approach to children in planning and providing homelessness services.