Across Tasmania, families are organising lunch-boxes and drink bottles, purchasing books and uniforms, and checking bus timetables. It’s the start of a new school year.
But there are some local children going back to school unprepared and focused on more basic needs – like how to stay safe, where to sleep tonight, and what to eat.
Anglicare continues to highlight the experiences of these highly vulnerable children in our communities, and in the lead-up to the state election is urging all candidates to commit to clear action.
‘Around 340 unaccompanied children seek help from homelessness services in a year, but it’s likely there are others who never come to the attention of services and whose circumstances remain hidden,’ said Catherine Robinson from Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre. ‘Unaccompanied children are those who arrive at a refuge without a parent or guardian. Two-thirds of these children are girls.’
Catherine’s research highlighted the situations of children aged between 10 and 16 years who were not in the care of the state’s Child Safety Service. ‘These are children who don’t meet the current threshold for a child protection response. However, they have experienced significant harm and adversity, often beginning in early childhood.’
One of these young people is ‘Simon’, a 14 year-old who had suffered family violence and abuse. To avoid dangers at home, he often ran away and frequently slept in unsafe situations. It took around three months for Simon to start trusting the Anglicare worker and to begin opening up about the abuse that he and his siblings had endured. Anglicare arranged medical attention for Simon who had some hearing loss because his ear drum had burst when his father hit him with a frozen two-litre bottle of Coke. He was also fitted with glasses and had teeth extracted so he could eat properly.
Anglicare has called on decision-makers to improve the level of care available to all highly vulnerable children in Tasmania.
‘During the crucial years of their development, these children have had persistent exposure to physical and emotional harm, and face extreme adversity during adolescence including homelessness and difficulty accessing mental health support and education. What helps is intensive, long-term, relationship-based care – but there is currently a dire shortage of this kind of therapeutic support,’ said Catherine.
Medium to long-term accommodation is also a priority, particularly for children who are not old enough for independent living but who are unable to return home. Anglicare’s research recommends greater investment in trauma-specific mental health services, residential drug detox and rehabilitation, and alternative education options.
Catherine said, ‘All young people have a right to safety, shelter, care and education. These are the basic building blocks of childhood. It’s time to give highly vulnerable young people the care they need, so that they can imagine a positive future like other young Tasmanians.
‘Anglicare has provided all candidates in the state election with a policy position about ways to effectively support these children.’
For more information about Anglicare’s research and to read the policy position paper visit the website.
Alternatively, a donation can be made at any Anglicare office or by post to Anglicare Tasmania GPO Box 1620 HOBART 7001.