Cost of Youth Homelessness Report shows need to invest in kids leaving care

A study released by Swinburne University this week has added to the mounting body of evidence showing that young people who leave state care are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The study, involving 400 participants aged 13-25 who were experiencing homelessness, revealed that a staggering 63 percent had been in kinship, residential or foster care prior to turning 18. This made it the single most commonly shared experience across the group and prompted the authors to state:

“This clearly indicates that the transition from out-of-home care into stable independent accommodation is an area of policy and service delivery requiring significant attention – what is it it about the system or the group that means that being placed in out-of-home care will, more often than not, lead to homelessness?”

This reinforces CHP’s call to the government to provide more support to young people leaving care to keep them out of homelessness. Most young people rely on assistance from their families once they’ve left home, to help them on their path to independence.  However, most teenagers who leave care don’t have the luxury of that safety net. 

In our 2015-16 pre-budget submission, we have proposed a ‘Leaving Care Housing Guarantee’ which would provide $4,160 per year for each young person leaving care to subsidise rent, pay bond or cover other housing related costs. As part of this guarantee, each young person would also have a support worker to help them on their path to independence.

Although this might seem like a lot of money, when the estimated cost of homelessness can exceed $700,000 and even head into the millions when factoring in the use of emergency and mental health services, as well as the justice system, it makes both economic and social sense.

Overall, the report found that approximately 44,000 people under the age of 25 were experiencing homelessness and that couch-surfing was the most common form of homelessness in this age group. It also highlighted the complexity of youth homelessness and the results clearly showed that the path to homelessness often starts at a young age, therefore early intervention is essential. In summary the key findings were:

  • More than half of young people under 25 receiving support from homelessness services had slept rough at least once prior to turning 18
  • 63% had been in out of home care before turning 18
  • 39% reported police coming to their home because of violence between parents at least once, and 14% reported police attending more than 10 times
  • 53% had been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime (mood disorders and anxiety were most prevalent)
  • High levels of psychological distress were evident and quality of life outcomes were considerably lower than for the general population
  • 52% were unemployed at the time of interview but were looking for work
  • A lack of permanent accommodation and poor health or a disability were identified as factors significantly affecting their ability to get work

The full report can be viewed here.