Collaboration between UnitingCare Wesley Bowden (UCWB) Inner Southern Homelessness Service (ISHS) and Flinders University to identify gaps in service delivery, for children and their families who are experiencing homelessness, has been recognised with a major award from leading national child abuse and neglect advocate NAPCAN.
The Child Aware Focus for Homelessness Staff program run by Flinders University and UCWB’s Inner Southern Homelessness Service (ISHS) won a ‘Play Your Part’ Award which recognises inspiring prevention initiatives.
Dr Yvonne Parry, a senior lecturer at Flinders University in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, described the program as a multi-faceted child-focused strategy for preventing abuse and neglect.
Regular placements of nursing and social work students from Flinders University, at ISHS and the introduction of tools to help students (and remind staff) identify child development issues was devised by Yvonne and Wendy Radbone, manager of the ISHS, based at Marion several years ago.
“The research shows that if you can support people intensively, a family especially, in those first few months of homelessness they are less likely to come back into homelessness.”Dr Yvonne Parry
Research conducted by Yvonne’s team found while the baseline degrees taught child aware practice none of them provided information in relation to child development.
“While the family may need financial counselling or support for domestic violence, often the need to keep children in kindergarten and school and connected socially was overlooked. The workers who don’t have that child development knowledge often miss those cues about children not being connected,” Yvonne says.
There was also a need to educate nurses about the potential broader needs of families, particularly children, when they turn up, for example, at the Emergency Department.
“Homeless families don’t often use GPs – there is a stigma attached and they feel ashamed and embarrassed that they can’t provide for their children – so they’ll go to Emergency Departments,” Yvonne says.
“Kids need continuity of care, they need immunisations and someone doing checks every now and then to see that they are doing okay, you don’t get that from EDs.”
Yvonne says 30% of those identified as homeless are families, and within those families more than two thirds of the children are aged 0 to 12 years.
“The research shows that if you can support people intensively, a family especially, in those first few months of homelessness they are less likely to come back into homelessness,” Yvonne says.
“If we don’t get it right then not only does that family come in and out of homelessness all the time, but you often set the child up for lifelong health, education and other social disconnections.”