Ms Kate Gumley
Chair, Homelessness Working Group
Department of Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
PO Box 7576
Canberra Business Centre
Re: A National Quality Framework for services to people experiencing homelessness
The AEU represents 180,000 teachers throughout Australia in the primary, secondary, TAFE and early childhood public education sectors. As such it is uniquely placed to provide insight into the situation of school age children experiencing homelessness and their educational needs.
The AEU welcomes the development of a national quality framework for services to people experiencing homelessness and the opportunity to take part in both stages of the consultation process. The AEU expects to make a more detailed submission regarding these matters during the second stage of the consultation process later in the year.
The AEU notes the disturbing fact that one in fifty Australian children will access a homeless service this year, and that more than 20% of them will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The 2008 Federal Government green paper Which Way Home reports that the majority of school age children between five and seventeen accessing a Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) do not attend school, and that furthermore accessing SAAP support does not improve educational participation.
The long term costs to children who miss out on school in these years will be seen in reduced work and life opportunities and higher rates of unemployment, disadvantage and mental and physical health problems.
At present there is no systematic process of addressing the educational needs of children experiencing homelessness or accessing a homeless support agency. In this context the AEU finds it disappointing that the 2008 Federal Government white paper The Road Home does not address or discuss the educational needs of school age children experiencing homelessness in a systematic manner.
Keeping these children at school must be an absolute priority. Education is the best chance children experiencing homelessness have of improving their lives and targeted measures must be put into place to ensure they have this chance. Everything must be done to minimise the distance that children and families have to travel to access accommodation so they can stay connected to their local school.
Processes are needed to improve cooperation between schools and the agencies delivering support services aimed at ensuring that children experiencing homelessness remain at school. The majority of schools serving the needs of children experiencing homelessness are in the public sector. Such schools need to be provided with additional support to enable them to target such children with the help they need. Resources are also needed to ensure that the burden of proactively supporting such students does not impact adversely on the wider school program. Federal, state and territory governments need to provide and sufficiently resource systemic programs of support to schools dealing with students in such a situation.
Specialist homeless services which deliver service to families and young people must also put in place measures to ensure that addressing educational needs of children is a key factor in determining the location and type of support given to families experiencing homelessness. Because of this, it is essential that any quality framework that is established contains minimum requirements in relation to basic knowledge and skills of staff regarding education and school. Agencies must also demonstrate minimum standards regarding relevant connections and relationships with local schools. Once again systemic programs of support are needed to allow them to do so.
The AEU believes that the proposed national quality framework for services to people experiencing homelessness should reflect these important matters. Properly resourced support programs aimed at keeping children at school and addressing their needs in a systematic manner should be a key element of quality service provision to children and families experiencing homelessness.