News National Why we are ‘wasting’ money on youth homelessness

Why we are ‘wasting’ money on youth homelessness

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Kayla was at risk of becoming homeless after the sudden death of her mother but now says a different kind of welfare support she received not only kept her on track but might have saved her.

She was 12 when tragedy struck. Her father was unable to care for her, leaving her perilously close to embarking on a life on the streets. Instead, she moved into a studio residence in her grandparents’ backyard that “made the transition into adulthood a lot easier”.

The accommodation was built specifically to enable Kayla to remain living with family as part of a program which targets early intervention, rather than years of contact with the state-run welfare system, in cases like Kayla’s. And she says it has worked.

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“I am definitely not as argumentative as I was,” the 18-year-old told The New Daily.

“It really helps in situations where I otherwise might have acted out. It relieves tension and having a space to study allows for quiet reflection and to absorb what I am learning.”

Kayla has been living in the studio for almost six years and is studying to become a social worker.

“This has been great for me and I really think that it is a thing that others should do if it’s viable,” she said.

The head of the group who provides Kayla’s housing says this cheaper form of care is the key to saving money on child welfare and achieving better outcomes for those in need.

More needs to be spent earlier on the path to youth homelessness to improve the outcomes for kids finding themselves on the streets, CEO of Kids Under Cover, Jo Swift, said.

For some, youth homelessness can be stopped in a cost effective way. Photo: Getty

Ms Swift said “it’s crucial across the sector we direct investment to early intervention”.

It’s estimated there are 44,000 homeless youths in Australia and Ms Swift said this number and the spending on services to house them need not be so big.

“More must be done to prevent this number from increasing,” Ms Swift said.

“There is a need for more investment in effective strategies that provide the most appropriate supports to at-risk young people at a critical time to prevent them travelling along a pathway to homelessness.”

Kids Under Cover have offered the program to house at-risk youths since 1993, which costs $50,000 over four to five years.

Eighty-two per cent of those who moved into this accommodation said they would be homeless if not for the Studio Program.

Research and evaluation notes the Studio Program saves the Australian community nearly $3.50 for every $1 invested in it.

The cost of juvenile detention in Western Australia also illustrates the expensive nature of more immediate services, with the state’s Department of Corrective Services calculating the cost per annum for a person in detention is $227,670.

The latest Victorian Department of Health and Human Services figures say that cost per homeless person for later residential care can be anywhere from $174,000 to $330,000 per annum.

Cost-effective can’t be the only way

Experts agree more expensive services must still play a vital role, but some say they could possibly be reduced.

“We cannot ignore the large number of young people who need immediate services … however if we wish for this number to not increase then more investment is required in early intervention and prevention,” said Ms Swift.

However, there are no blanket solutions.

CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Deb Tsorbaris, told The New Daily that both more expensive and cost-effective services are vital.

“There needs to be investment across the board but all kids have different needs,” she said.

“It is difficult to make a direct link or compare studio living with therapeutic residential care, for example. Studio living changes peoples lives and so to does therapeutic care for kids who need it.

“What we need is more of all of it, so kids get what they need, when they need it.”

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