Yass Valley Council will lobby ministers for a local youth refuge after hearing from the Yass High School principal in a public forum that an increasing number of children were sleeping at friends’ houses to escape unsafe homes.
A youth refuge with six beds (three for males and three for females), supervised 24/7 by a youth worker, would provide safe emergency accommodation for vulnerable children in the Yass Valley, said councillor Jasmin Jones after asking local experts.
A refuge could provide a safe and stable environment while they access health and welfare services… and enable them to continue their education.Councillor Jasmin Jones
At the present time, children were staying with friends or anywhere less traumatic than their own homes, or were taken by police or Anglicare to the closest youth refuge in Goulburn, principal Linda Langton said during the council’s ordinary meeting on November 28.
Such youth were 2.5 times more likely not to complete school and once they were away from everything else they knew in Yass, it became harder for teachers to re-engage them, Mrs Langton said.
School was the last place for children to connect with services beyond education, Cr Jones said. A refuge “could provide a safe and stable environment while they access health and welfare services… and enable them to continue their education,” Cr Jones said.
When staying away from home, children also did not have access to their uniform, school books and bags or even basic hygiene items such as a toothbrush, Mrs Langton told the council.
These children were not always in the care of appropriate people, either. Those kind enough to provide refuge, such as a local mother who also spoke at the forum, ran the risk of the situation affecting their family.
“Often they come to you with nothing. They don’t have a toothbrush, their Medicare card or access to technology, so they can’t access bank accounts or find out if there is a job somewhere; transport is another big issue,” the carer-mother said.
Mrs Langton previously worked at the high school in Bowral and told the council about the success the refuge there had had with helping students complete their education.
This is a state government matter and the council will be advocating for the relevant ministers to look at this matter seriously.Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey
“Any efforts a community takes to look after and support children has benefits,” Mrs Langton said.
“This is a high school staring down at the problem and doing something about it and they are to be commended,” Cr Jones said.
Family and Community Services (FACS) is currently undertaking an audit of the number of people who could benefit from a refuge, Cr Jones said. She estimated at least 40 families could be helped.
“Councillors were surprised by the increasing trend of the unsafe home environments that children are living with and we will do all we can to support the high school,” Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey said.
“This is a state government matter and the council will be advocating for the relevant ministers to look at this matter seriously and hopefully put forward the necessary resources to set-up a refuge in the Yass Valley.”
The council will be approaching the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing and Member for Goulburn, Pru Goward, on this matter.
“Reducing youth homelessness is one of the NSW government’s priorities, [including] committing to increase the proportion of young people who successfully move from Specialist Homelessness Services to long-term accommodation to more than 34 per cent by 2019,” Ms Goward’s office said when asked about the feasibility of a youth refuge in the Yass Valley.
The NSW government is also investing $50.2 million into specialist youth homelessness services in 2018/19.
- The NSW Department of Education declined to comment beyond the remarks presented by Mrs Langton at the council’s public forum.