The least of these
What happens to young Tasmanians who don’t receive the care and protection every child needs to thrive?
New research by Anglicare reveals the intensity of suffering and trauma in the lives of some local children and the burden of adult responsibilities they bear.
The research contains harrowing accounts from highly vulnerable young Tasmanians who have been repeatedly exposed to physical and emotional harm. These children spoke of reaching breaking point, often between the age of 10 and 13 years old.
‘It’s heart-breaking’, said Mardie Blair, a youth worker with Anglicare. ‘These are young people who have been hurt so many times it’s hard for them to trust anyone. The world is a big and scary place and they are trying to navigate it alone. They say they just want to be “normal” – to be like other young people who have loving, safe homes, go to school and have tea on the table’.
The Tasmanian community might expect that Child Safety Services is providing the holistic response needed to support these traumatised young people. The reality is that there are not adequate placement options in out-of-home care for young people in this age group and circumstances.
In the absence of a Child Safety response, there are some homelessness services which provide support and accommodation for a limited period of time – but only from 13 years of age.
These children also don’t fit the criteria to access mental health support through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, and there is no residential drug and alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation service available for them.
Understandably, many service providers feel they are only helping young people lurch from crisis to crisis. They see traumatised young people on trajectories that include cumulative harm, repeat homelessness, limited education, contact with police and youth justice, escalating mental and physical health issues, and even suicide.
The new Anglicare research found that despite the best intentions of many service providers, they were only able to deliver ‘fragments of care’ due to under-resourcing.
‘Distressingly, we found that many young people end up labelled “too hard” and miss out on even the most basic forms of care and protection’, said Anglicare researcher Catherine Robinson.
‘These young people experience abandonment in their own family environments, but just as importantly when they leave those settings they are then experiencing abandonment by the under-resourcing of services that should be there to support them’, she said.
The Anglicare research report Too Hard? Highly vulnerable teens in Tasmania sets out a plan to prioritise the needs of these children.
Anglicare knows that what helps traumatised young people is intensive, long-term, relationship-based care – but there is currently a dire shortage of this kind of therapeutic support in our state.
‘Supportive, ongoing, relationship-based care is vital to ensure the safety of young Tasmanians, help them recover from trauma, and develop positive mental health and well-being’, said Dr Robinson.
The Anglicare research calls for more investment in specialised medium- and long-term supported housing options. ‘Again, this needs to be trauma-informed, therapeutic care which can support young people towards independence or to return home where this safe’, she said.
The research recommends existing adolescent services in Tasmania be expanded to include greater investment in trauma-specific mental health services, residential drug detox and rehabilitation, and alternative education options.
‘Clear funding commitments are needed for each of these vital services to genuinely meet the need that is there’, said Dr Robinson. ‘We can design and fund support services in a way that shows we refuse to label any young Tasmanian as “too hard” and that we care deeply about their well-being and futures.’
‘All young people have a right to safety, shelter, care and education’, said Dr Robinson. ‘These are basic building blocks of childhood. It’s time to provide highly vulnerable young people with the care they need, so that they can imagine a positive future like other young Tasmanians.’
What can you do?
- Deepen your understanding of how trauma affects children and young people. There are often underlying reasons for a young person’s troubling behaviour.
- Let your elected representative know that you support the provision of specialised services for these highly vulnerable young Tasmanians.
- Show practical support to existing services which are under-resourced and working at capacity. Tell committed workers that you appreciate their efforts to care for and protect our young people.
- Keep believing in the power of love to transform lives. Pray that God’s will be done on earth.
You can download a copy of the research report. Please be aware that it contains graphic descriptions of family violence and other confronting material. If you find this distressing and want someone to talk to, please call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 RESPECT; Lifeline 13 11 14.