"Nowhere to go" : Investigating homelessness experiences of 12-15 year-olds in the Australian Capital Territory

Project report


Noble-Carr, Debbie and Trew, Sebastian. (2018). "Nowhere to go" : Investigating homelessness experiences of 12-15 year-olds in the Australian Capital Territory Dickson, Australian Capital Territory: Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University.
AuthorsNoble-Carr, Debbie and Trew, Sebastian
TypeProject report
Abstract

[Executive Summary]

Youth homelessness has been recognised as being a significant issue in Australia. Despite this, there has been little attention given to understanding how young people, especially those under 16 years of age, experience and navigate unaccompanied homelessness. A recent report on unaccompanied homeless people aged 10-17 in Tasmania highlights that, in addition to experiencing complex adversity, young people in this age group may be particularly vulnerable to policy and service provision gaps (Robinson, 2017).

With an aim to better understand the issue of youth homelessness for 12-15 year olds in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the ACT Government’s Community Services Directorate (CSD) commissioned the Institute of Child Protection Studies (the Institute) to conduct a qualitative study. The study interviewed ten 16-19 year olds who were asked to reflect on their experience of homelessness when aged 12-15 years. The study aimed to answer the following research questions:

1. What were the factors that contributed to young people aged 12-15 years becoming homeless in Canberra, ACT?

2. What were the lived experiences of these homeless young people?

3. What were the informal and formal support and service experiences of these young people?

4. What were the needs of these young people?

5. What would help prevent young people (aged 12-15yrs) from becoming homeless?

6. How might we best provide support to young people who experience homelessness when aged between 12-15 years in Canberra?

7. Who or what helped these young people transition out of homelessness?

The findings of this study highlight some common precursors and pathways into homelessness. Almost all participants in this study experienced significant adversity throughout their childhoods, often living in family homes characterised by violence, abuse and/or neglect. Half had been removed by child protection authorities into the out-of-home care system – but the young people felt this had not led to safe, stable or secure housing. As such, the majority of young people we interviewed felt like they had never had a home – a place of safety, security and happiness.

Family conflict, with parents or carers, was a significant issue for the young people in this study. Alongside conflict at home, the young people we spoke to were facing a range of other challenges including: declining mental health, problems at school and feeling that no-one really understood the significance of the problems they were experiencing, or could do anything to help. With these challenges compounding, and with limited resources and minimal supports to turn to, young people felt they were left with little choice but to leave their unsafe or uncaring homes and enter into unaccompanied homelessness.

Once homeless, young people felt scared and alone and had nowhere to go that could offer safe or secure housing. Young people largely relied on family or friends for short term offers of housing and other basic needs such as money and food. For over half of the participants, spending nights on the street became inevitable. Young people were connected to many formal services. However, none of these were able to meet the full range of their practical and emotional needs. Beyond access to housing or income support, which was particularly difficult for young people aged under 16yrs, young people required support with their physical and mental health and support to engage in meaningful activities (such as education or employment).

Young people felt that more effective practical and emotional support could be provided if formal supporters listen carefully, take young people’s concerns seriously and use their power to advocate for young people’s needs. Effective advocacy to help young people navigate complex service systems and successfully access income and housing was particularly critical.

The desire and determination for a better life had led most of the young people to leave their family homes and enter into homelessness. This determination had sustained and motivated young people whilst they experienced the many challenges associated with being homeless. At the time of their interview, some young people had achieved stable housing and were making significant caring contributions to others and/or were meaningfully engaged in work or study. Half of the young people who participated in this study, however, remained homeless. As the young people noted, there is much work to be done to help prevent and better respond to youth homelessness in the ACT. The young people who participated in this study hope their views and experiences can assist in this important work.

Year2018
PublisherInstitute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University
Place of publicationDickson, Australian Capital Territory
Page range1-49
Web address (URL)https://www.acu.edu.au/-/media/feature/pagecontent/richtext/about-acu/institutes-academies-and-centres/icps/_docs/final-report-nowhere-to-go1.pdf
https://www.acu.edu.au/about-acu/institutes-academies-and-centres/institute-of-child-protection-studies/publications/publications-by-format-type/research-reports
Author's accepted manuscript
License
File Access Level
Open
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online2018
Publication process dates
Deposited30 Nov 2023
ISBN9781922097675
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