Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

'Good for Kids': Children Who Have Been Homeless Talk about School

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

'Good for Kids': Children Who Have Been Homeless Talk about School

Article excerpt


Schools can help kids by being safe and it's somewhere you know what's going to happen next. That's good for kids. (Boy, aged 10)

Experiencing homelessness disrupts many aspects of families' lives. For children, homelessness has been found to severely restrict their access to and full participation in the education system. There are multiple difficulties for children in maintaining consistent schooling, including the high level of mobility experienced by their families and the consequent disruptions this causes to their schooling (Efron, Sewell, Horn & Jewell, 1996). But, while children experience homelessness, school can be a stable and familiar place in their otherwise uncertain lives. Overseas evidence has pointed to how schools can provide support to children undergoing adversity (Gilligan, 2000) and school routines can play 'a counterbalance to the instability and disruption' being homeless can cause. How connected children and young people feel to their school is thought to be an important element in positive health, social and educational outcomes (Waters, Cross & Shaw, 2010).

This article reports views and experiences of school from children and young people who have been homeless. It is hoped that when educators hear directly from children about the roles that school can play in their lives that it will lead to more responsive and active support. There is no doubt that schools have an important role to play in providing support to children who are homeless.

The article first provides an overview of the extent of homelessness among children and what is known about its impact on their schooling. It then presents the findings of a study that explored the experience of homelessness with a group of children and young people. This includes their views and advice about what schools can do to assist other children who are homeless.

Extent and nature of the issue

In Australia, children and their parents are the group that are most increasingly homeless. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), children now make up over a third (37%) of all people accessing the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services (AIHW, 2008). Indigenous children are over-represented among homeless children, making up about a quarter of children accompanying an adult to seek SAAP support and more than 18% of unaccompanied children are aged under 18 years (AIHW, 2006). These are very worrying trends.

Although there have been increasing rates of family homelessness in Australia, little research has focused on understanding families' experiences. There has been even less attention on exploring the experience and effects of homelessness from children's perspectives. Therefore, most of what we know is adults reporting on children. We are also reliant on research from the USA and UK where, from the early 1980s, trends of family homelessness were first recognised.

International research and some Australian research have identified a range of adverse effects directly attributable to children's experiences of family homelessness (Buckner, 2008). These impacts include delays in development (including emotional development in preschool children) (Molnar, Rath & Klein, 1990); behavioural problems and negative effects on health and wellbeing (Efron et al., 1996); reduced social participation (Halpenny, Keogh & Gilligan, 2002; Keogh, Halpenny & Gilligan, 2006; St Luke's Anglicare, 2005); and poor educational outcomes (Bartholomew, 1998, 1999; Hausman & Hammen, 1993; Morris & Butt, 2003). International studies show that children who experience homelessness are more likely to feel stressed, depressed, exhibit anxiety and often have a sense of isolation.

It must be noted that the experience of homelessness and its effects on children are part of a complex set of circumstances that are both structural and environmental. …

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