Number of Australian families experiencing homelessness continues to rise
Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) services are becoming increasingly more likely to be working with children and families who are experiencing homelessness due to poverty or adverse events, or who are living with the consequences of domestic and family violence.
While homelessness services can provide effective local support to families they often cannot respond to problems of insufficient affordable housing supply, poverty and lack of access to other services, which is why cross over supports, such as the Additional Child Care Subsidy may be required.
A new report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), A homelessness service system to support families, was undertaken for AHURI by researchers from UNSW Sydney, University of South Australia and Swinburne University, and examined how well the homelessness services system works for families in Australia and where things could be improved.
When families face homelessness they can experience a range of difficulties such as limited access to alternative accommodation, disrupted routines, financial difficulty, loss of possessions and family pets, loss of social identity as a family, violence, trauma and fear, limited mainstream social and economic participation, and disruptions in education and care for children.
“The impact of homelessness on children and parents is significant and ongoing and often homelessness service support responses cannot substantially alleviate this,” said lead author of the research, Associate Professor kylie valentine (name shown in lower case only per request) of UNSW Sydney.
Associate Professor valentine said that the reasons through which families find themselves at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, are diverse, and the needs they have as a result are quite different.
“This is a problem for the homelessness system as the single category of ‘families’ combines groups of people who have quite different experiences and characteristics and need different types of support,” she added.
The research identified a number of important aspects of well-functioning homelessness support services that operate in different areas at the local level, including access to permanent housing with support services (if needed), prevention and early intervention responses, and streamlined assessment processes to direct families to the most appropriate support.
“While homelessness services provide effective local support to families in many cases, they often cannot respond to problems of insufficient affordable housing supply, of poverty and gaps in other services, such as child welfare, justice, education and employment,” Associate Professor valentine said.
“As such, the homelessness service system is faced with significant challenges that are driven in part by the complexity of shared responsibilities between Commonwealth and state and territory governments, in part because of the range of individual circumstances and characteristics that place individuals and families at risk, and in part because homelessness is a function of employment and housing markets, personal experiences, and available services.”