Education concerns for children without a home

Homelessness disrupts the schooling of children, service providers and advocates say. Picture: LOUISE KENNERLEY
Homelessness disrupts the schooling of children, service providers and advocates say. Picture: LOUISE KENNERLEY

An increase in the number of children and young people seeking support for homelessness has sparked concerns about educational outcomes.

Figures from the Council to Homeless Persons shows almost 11,000 primary and secondary school students sought help from homelessness services across the state in 2016-17, an increase of 11 per cent on the previous year.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says Australia-wide, nearly three in 10 clients of homelessness services are aged under 18, and one in six are under the age of 10.

Kirsten Rabbitt, acting manager of family and youth service for Anglicare Victoria’s St Luke’s region, said it was “very difficult” for young people experiencing homelessness to engage in education.

When a young person was concerned about whether they would have a roof over their head, Mrs Rabbitt said, it was hard for them to focus on their education or employment.

Mrs Rabbitt said this could perpetuate a cycle: if a young person was unable to obtain a certain level of education it could later make it difficult for them to secure a job that would allow them to pay for rent.

She said experiencing or being at risk of homelessness disrupted other aspects of a child or young person’s life too, such as their relationships, health, and general engagement in the community through sport or other activities.

Family violence is the most common primary reason people give for seeking support in Australia.

Julie Oberin, head of women and children’s refuge Annie North, said the education of children experiencing family violence was often affected well before they left the home.

“It can cause them to refuse to go to school,” Ms Oberin said.

“It can also impact on their health and wellbeing by causing anxiety and depression, along with learning difficulties.”

Ms Oberin said it could be difficult for people affected by homelessness as a result of family violence to find somewhere stable to live because of lack of affordability, discrimination and safety issues.

She also said more affordable housing was needed to free up refuge places, as many services were forced to put women and children in motels as crisis accommodation.

The Council to Homeless Persons has called on the state government to put $17.6 million over four years towards the education of homeless children, by expanding a program called LOOKOUT that is currently available only to those in out of home care.

The organisation says this would support 12,000 students.

For homelessness support, Anglicare Victoria can be contacted on 5440 1100 (an after-hours service is available) or at the office at 10 Mundy Street.

Housing provider Haven; Home, Safe can provide help for those aged over 17 on 5444 9000.

Those experiencing family violence can call the safe steps Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or the Centre for Non-Violence on 1800 884 292 or 5430 3000.