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Youth homelessness: many Australians would be shocked

Children's Children's Rights
Cover of homeless child from 1989 Commission Report

Many Australians would be shocked if they knew the huge numbers of children and young people affected by homelessness in Australia.

Speaking on Youth Homelessness Matters Day, National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell cited Census figures that show Australia has 28,756 children and young people are homeless, and 17,842 of these are under 12 years of age.

“Educating the public about this issue is the first step in creating the momentum for change,” Commissioner Mitchell said.

“Youth homelessness is not just a housing issue, it is a human rights issue.

“Children and young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness need to be recognised as rights holders and supported in ways that help them to enjoy their full suite of rights.”

Commissioner Mitchell said we cannot begin to tackle youth homelessness until we understand its causes.

“Homelessness rarely exists in a vacuum,” she said

“Many factors can lead to young people finding themselves homeless - from individual issues associated with family conflict and breakdown, substance abuse, gender and sexuality to broader societal problems like youth unemployment and unaffordable housing.

“One factor that is less talked about is that when young people run away from home, often they are running away from abuse and violence.”

Commissioner Mitchell said some studies suggest that over 20 per cent of children in Australia have witnessed violence against their mother or step mother.

The Commissioner said her office has conducted additional research into the numbers of children who are direct victims of family violence.

“This research showed that 839,400 women and 596,400 men first experienced physical violence by a family member before the age of 15.

“Our research also showed that 515,200 and 97,800 men first experienced sexual abuse by a family member before the age of 15.

“These figures show just how widespread and commonplace violence is in the lives of Australian children. The negative impacts of this exposure cannot be underestimated.”

Commissioner Mitchell said she is encouraged by the growing recognition of family and domestic violence as an important issue in Australia, and that action to address family violence is underway.

“However, it is critical that understanding of the unique impacts and experiences of children and young people is a part of this national conversation, including the link between family and domestic violence and youth homelessness.

“It is also important that the voices of young people who have experienced homelessness are heard and listened to.

“Today, we have young people with us who have this experience and I urge all of us who are in a position to influence policy and practice to listen to their stories and engage with them on how we can best both prevent and respond to youth homelessness.

“Always remember, these young people are the experts in their own lives. They best know what works for them and what doesn’t.

“That’s why the work of organisations like Yfoundations is vital in keeping the issue of youth homelessness on the national agenda.”

Read more: Speech by National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell

Tags Children