Homelessness among young people in Australia : early intervention and prevention

Crane, Philip R. & Brannock, Jillian M. (1996) Homelessness among young people in Australia : early intervention and prevention. National Clearinghouse for Youth Studies, Hobart, Tasmania.

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This study provides further support for the findings of previous studies regarding the factors which lead to homelessness among young people. Homelessness most clearly arises from a lack of access to affordable safe accommodation. This said, the experiences of young people where early home leaving occurs are typified either by a long-term proscess where the young person feels a lack of emotional support, often associated with abuse, domestic violence, negative school experience, rejection accompanying repartnering of a parent, or as a result of one or more specific events which involve grief or loss, or a combination of any or all of the above. The view that the provision of income support for homeless young people provides an inducement for early home leaving is not borne out in this research.

While a number of current Commonwealth and State/Territory policies acknowledge the importance of prevention and/or early intervention, few programs and services are specifically directed to these purposes. Outside of the Attorney-General's adolescent mediation and family therapy programs, some Supported Accommodation Assistance Program services, a small number of alternative care services, and a small number of school focused services, there are few recurrently funded services to young people and their families exist.

The study found that young people see their relations with parents, or other parent figures as central to their capacity to remain at home. Young people indicated they principally left home because of conflict with parents, various forms of abuse, because they were kicked out, and/or because of drug and alcohol related issues. Themes of a lack of felt emotional support, a culture of blame, and unresolved grief and loss pervade the accounts of these young people. Young people suggested that well in advance of home leaving occurring, there needs to be improved parental and adult attitudes and behaviours to them, greater understanding of the impact of new parental partners on them, a halt to abuse, and early access to third party facilitation of communication. Young people indicated that when home leaving first occurs they needed a clear idea of where to get help, recognition that it was a very stressful time for them, short and long-term accommodation options, culturally sensitive services and immediate response to their calls for assistance.

The dominant view of young people was that they should be respected and listened to more, and specifically that parental attitudes and behaviour should alter. Overall they see communication based strategies as the ones most frequently needed, though they indicate such services can be unhelpful and even destructive if they do not recognise the young person as a person in his or her own right, with views, feelings, and important information. Counselling and many other helping strategies, often appear to young people as biased or un-empathetic. When young people find others acting and speaking in a way which presumes they are themselves the problem, they quickly dismiss such assistance as useless.

Parents' accounts of their experience of early home-leaving which results in homelessness leave in no doubt the distress, anger, defensiveness and embarrassment that they often feel. Parents generally identify their children as the 'problem', while at the same time indicating significant levels of difficulty, instability, stress, and problematic behaviour within the family, and specifically, in relation to one or more parent/s or adults.

Parents report great difficulty in gaining adequate responses from service providers at critical times, prior to and after home leaving. Parents report the same range of issues as causing early home leaving as do young people with the exception that parents do not include the feelings and perspectives of their children as issues. It is significant that although there is a degree of similarity in parents' and young people's definitions of home (where people feel loved, safe, supported) parents do not, as young people do, include in their definitions specific behaviours which indicate how such feelings are developed and maintained (through listening, getting problems sorted out, talking to each other). This, together with a tendency to blame, and exclude from discussion their own role in the process of early home leaving, supports the view that parents have a substantial 'blind spot' about the antecedents of early home leaving.

The implications for parent support and education strategies include the need to examine the notion of home from a child's perspective, for parents to develop the capacity to self-reflect on the behaviours that are consistent with their own notions of home, and to develop skills in discussing these matters with children. Parents indicated that in order to prevent homelessness among young people, most needed were whole of family counselling or family mediation, time out accommodation, and changed school practices.

The national survey of service providers indicated the most detailed and clearly thought out early intervention services were being provided by young people-family mediation programs, whole of school approaches (as opposed to add on, targeted at risk strategies) and SAAP services which have a significant focus on young people 12 to 15 years of age. Seventy-five per cent of services indicated there was a need for greater collaboration between community based service providers and schools. Constraints to the undertaking of early intervention or prevention work were cited as the limitations of program funding parameters, inadequate resources, and institutional practices which mitigate against undertaking this work.

Best practice principles to emerge from the study are:

immediacy of response from services when help is sought by young people or parents; understanding the social, economic and cultural contexts of family difficulty, and seeing young people and parents as operating in stressful circumstances rather than being 'dysfunctional' or inherently problematic; developing practice models which combine both relational and rights-based approaches, that is, models which simultaneously recognise the importance of family relations yet recognise the fundamental rights of young people, such as the right to a safe and supportive home; recognition that within family relations work, the perspectives of both young people and parents need to be appreciated; recognition that the prevention of homelessness among young people has structural and institutional dimensions which require reform at those levels; provision to parents, young people, and other family members, of a range of universally accessible, non-stigmatising support services. Such services should provide a 'soft entry' point of first contact, where parents or young people, separately or together, can access support to more specialised services; organisational practices which use explicit action/reflection processes, together with substantial staff support and development processes; substantial cooperation, collaboration and networking between different service providers at the local and regional levels, e.g. youth services, police, protective services, community services and schools, so that the broad range of needs demonstrated by young people and families may be responded to. This is particularly critical between 'first to know' services (those most likely to be the first point of contact for young people or parents experiencing difficulties related to early home-leaving) and other services; the involvement of services in individual and systems advocacy. While case management can assist in high need circumstances, it is not an appropriate model on which to base the development of protective factors nor for the development of self referral services; and recognition of the need for culturally appropriate services for indigenous people, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds. There are numerous models in the case study series which can be considered to incorporate best practice in their own contexts. Particularly worthy of examination are: The Drum Information Café (a basic community based model of information provision and "soft entry" service access to young people); KITS (comprehensive approach to school and community services), St James Prac (whole of school pastoral care approach), Kids Help Line and Parentline (universally accessible telephone counselling services); Family and Individual Support Worker in SAAP model (building into transitional accommodation a clear family relations capacity); Youth and Parent Services (a dedicated early intervention service combining short-term SAAP accommodation and family mediation/counselling functions); RAPS (young person-family mediation services to the broadest cross-section of families); BABI and MUYIM (community boarding programs which support reunification and reconciliation); Burnside's Intensive Family Based Support Service; Marsden Families Program (a multi-component alternative care model specifically for young people and their families); EPPIC (a mental health service for young people and their families); and, finally, the insights of the rural youth services (who identified the need for local young people-family support strategies in rural areas). What is striking in this context of best practice, is the lack of an explicit early intervention referral role for the police, given that they are often one of the "first to know" agencies.

The capacity of early intervention and situational strategies to prevent homelessness among young people is limited given the existence of substantial structural and institutional factors. The prevention of homelessness among young people will require far more than an increased focus on early intervention. One structural factor of particular relevance to this study is the way young people are understood and stereotyped. These usually negative constructions affect the capacity of governments, services, the media, parents and young people to respond fully and constructively to issues such as homelessness among young people. In the pursuit of best practice, this research suggests that a recognition and re-evaluation of the beliefs about, and portrayals of, young people is needed.

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ID Code: 4
Item Type: Book
Additional Information: For more information and access to other NYARS reports, see the web site: http://www.acys.utas.edu.au/
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Homelessness, youth, young people
ISBN: 187523635X
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIAL WORK (160700)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800)
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Centre for Social Change Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 1996 National Youth Affairs Research Scheme
Copyright Statement: Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Deposited On: 26 Feb 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:38

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