Families and homelessness

Supporting parents and improving outcomes for children

Content type
Event date

10 February 2021, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Trish Burden, Leeann Lenane, Rowan Sweeney , Gill Munro




This webinar was held on Wednesday, 10 February 2021.

Homelessness is a significant social issue that affects many Australian families. When a family experiences homelessness, there can be negative and diverse consequences for the social and emotional wellbeing of any children involved. Evidence shows, however, that a positive parent–child relationship can provide a protective buffer against some of these impacts.

It is important that practitioners working with families experiencing homelessness understand the impact this experience can have on parenting and provide appropriate support. By supporting parents to have a positive relationship with their child, practitioners can also help to support the social and emotional wellbeing of children.

This webinar explored:

  • The evidence that parent–child relationships can support children’s social and emotional wellbeing in experiences of homelessness
  • How to recognise and respond to the impact of homelessness on parenting and the parent–child relationship in families
  • How practitioners can integrate this into their practice.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working with families and children experiencing homelessness, or the ongoing impacts of homelessness, in health, education, social and community service settings.

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds in a series focusing on children’s mental health. They are working together as part of the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

Emerging Minds logo

Audio transcript (edited)

MS MUNRO: Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to today's webinar, Families and homelessness, supporting parents and improving outcomes for children. The webinar is co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds. My name is Gil Munro and I work Emerging Minds National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. In today's presentation we'll be exploring how practitioners can work with families who are experiencing homelessness in ways that can support improved outcomes for children's mental health and wellbeing. Let's have a look at the learning objectives so we can be clear for you about what's ahead in the next hour. So we will be exploring the evidence that parent/child relationships can support children's social and emotional wellbeing and experiences of homelessness, how to recognise and respond to the impact of homelessness on parenting and the parent/child relationship in families, and how practitioners can integrate this into their practice.

So as we proceed, Emerging Minds and CFCA recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples as the traditional owners of the lands we work, play and walk on throughout this country. We acknowledge and respect their traditional connections to their land and waters, culture, spirituality, family and community for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children and their families. So this is the third in a series of webinars focused on infant and child mental health that will be facilitated in partnership between CFCA and Emerging Minds. The next webinar topic is Practice approaches to support the mental health of children living with a disability and we have already had webinars on responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children's social and emotional wellbeing and families and gambling, helping parents and improving outcomes for children.

So over to our presenters and it's now my pleasure to introduce today's presenters, Trish Burden, Leeann Lenane and it was going to be Rowan Sweeney but I’m terribly sorry that we had some technical issues with Rowan's connection. The internet just wasn't playing nicely with us this morning so unfortunately, we can't have Rowan presenting at the webinar but I think Leeann is going to step into the breach and present his content so thanks, Leeann for that. I'll quickly ask a question for the presenters just to introduce themselves so you get to know a little bit about who they are and I'll start with Trish Burden from Unity Housing here in South Australia and Trish, if you can just let us know, I know you've worked in the homelessness sector for a long time now, what sort of things keep you passionate about working in this sector?

MS BURDEN: Well, access to affordable housing is a basic right for all and I learnt a long time ago that unless people have access to safe and affordable housing many life domains either can't move forward or are significantly hampered by living in unsatisfactory circumstances. I'm driven through being part of a collective of people and organisations to help create pathways for individuals, families and children away from disadvantage and discrimination toward a life of hope, independence and inclusion.

MS MUNRO: Fabulous. Thanks so much, Trish, and thanks for being here. And Leanne Lenann from State-wide Children's Resource Program, thank you so much for attending as well and maybe if I can ask you something similar. Just what has sustained you in this field? I know that like Trish you've worked in the sector for a long time so what kind of things sustain you in this field?

MS LENANE: Thank you, Gil. I think a belief in change, that change is possible and that we can all work towards providing the support and the resources that families and children need so that everyone, all children can have a happy and healthy life.

MS MUNRO: Fantastic and sometimes thats it in a nutshell, isn't it. Okay. So please join me in giving our presenters are very warm and virtual welcome and I might turn over to Trish then to start out webinar thank you

MS BURDEN: Great, thanks, Gil. It's my pleasure to be contributing to this important conversation today. My role on the panel today is to share with you an overview of the role and function of the social housing sector and the important foundation it provides in other key life domains. As a result, I'm hoping you will leave today with some useful information you can apply in your daily professional practice. I would like to start by defining some key terms I'll be using today in relation to social housing, public housing and community housing and the definition of homelessness. Social housing is the umbrella term used for both public and community housing. Public housing dwellings are managed by state housing authorities. For example, in South Australia this is called Housing SA, in New South Wales as an example this is called Housing New South Wales and in Western Australia this is called the Department of Housing.

The naming conventions are usually quite similar across all states and territories so if you were wanting to access information simply googling your state and public housing and some good searches will come up. Community housing dwellings are managed by not-for-profit community housing providers of which there are around 700 around the country in all states and territories and commonly manage a mixed portfolio for generic tenants, ex-offenders, women, families and children, people with a disability, addiction or mental health issues. In Australia the top 10 community housing providers manage anywhere between 3000 to 10,000 properties each.

The commonality between public and community housing is that they both have strict eligibility criteria for people on low income with complex needs and rents are usually set as a percentage of income. In recognition of the diversity and prevalence of homelessness. The definition widely used in the housing and homelessness sector is that of Mackenzie and Chamberlain which identifies three categories as primary, secondary and tertiary homelessness and includes sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings, frequent movement from one temporary shelter to another, people staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards such as boarding houses and caravan parks. People can be homeless or at risk of homelessness due to loss of employment, relationship breakdown, substance misuses, gambling addiction, mental health issues or other social issues.

Insufficient housing supply and localities of choice is a dire issue in our sector. There are a number of significant implications of the never-ending sense of never enough of the right thing. The configuration of the house might be perfect but the location of the house might not be close enough to close, relatives or work, or the location of the property might be perfect itself too small, too big, no yard or too big a yard. Research shows that over-crowding on its own has an incredibly negative impact on school age children who are simply unable to complete homework without interruption from their siblings or other family or household members. Another consequence of never enough is the compounding impact of impoverished tenants living in deprived suburbs and towns also experiencing social disadvantage. It can be equally frustrating for housing and support providers alike to find an appropriate and acceptable match between the property and the family or tenant configuration.

On a positive note however over the last five to 10 years community housing providers are more assertively than ever stepping forward with a housing plus model. The plus reference meaning intensifying housing management resources on the front line, the professionalization of our workforce and investing more and more resources into tenant engagement and community inclusion initiatives. Looking at the outcomes model for social housing, this slide I think really nicely depicts the interconnectedness between a safe and affordable home which is the blue house in the middle of this detailed diagram and then coming off of that are arms and connections to other elements of all our lives that can really come together better when people are living in safe and affordable housing.

So if we move around the diagram we have the home centred in the middle and then coming off that are a range of other life domains including health, social and community engagement and inclusion, safety for individuals for local neighbourhoods and local communities, economic elements of lives including employment and volunteering. Importantly education is extremely important access to stable and predictable education due to stable and predictable housing and I really like this diagram. I use it a lot in my role when inducting new staff and social work students who might be with us on placement because it's a really great pictorial of the importance of housing and what you will have available to you after this presentation is a more full report that's listed there on the slide produced by the New South Wales Government albeit back in 2016 but I think you would agree once reading it, it is a very good resource to have on hand.

Just to finish up on this slide, links have been identified between housing quality and stability and mental health outcomes and children's development through a reduction in stress. Unity's housing and support partnership model is premised on Unity fulfilling the role of social landlord where we like to work with tenants to achieve sustainable tenancies and that together with the expertise of specialist support services evictions for families and children can be avoided. The relationship between social landlord and support agency is commonly formalised by memorandums of understanding and the relationship can improve through the mutual understanding of each other's sector. And if there were to be take out message for you today it would be this, if looking for housing for any of your clients or consumers, or however you refer to them, I think it's really important that you reach out and introduce yourselves to your local community housing providers and Public Housing Authority. So you can share with them and they can share with you a bit about each other and to really to be able to come together and improve the mutual understanding of each other's sectors.

Successful tenancy outcomes are best achieved whereby social and tenancy support follows the tenants rather than the tenants, especially families and children needing to move to access integrated case management support. Research shows that with stable housing comes increased responsibility for people which in turn boosts and supports people's motivation to change through having a greater sense of purpose. Effective housing and support interventions are based on housing accompanied by appropriate and enduring support services. The most successful strategies are those where support follows people, as I mentioned before, rather than people needing to move to get the support. Housing stability provides grounding for people to take advantage of opportunities to participate in the community through volunteering, participation in local groups and clubs and involvement in decision making.

Equally for children, housing stability provides a better environment to create daily routines, forming friendships with other local children, joining sport or other recreation clubs and other community-based groups. Intangible elements include hope, spiritual or emotional growth and a sense of control, stability and belief in the future which are life aspirations for all of us. Vulnerable people experiencing entrenched disadvantage require a coordinated response to address the multi-dimensional and complex nature of their disadvantage and ongoing support to ensure the individual progressively build skills and assets. So this brings me to a close for now and I'll join you a bit later for questions.

MS MUNRO: Thanks so much for that, Trish. That was lots of information in there for our attendees to digest and I hope the questions are pouring in. So I'll move on now to Leeann Lenane from State-wide Children's Resource Program. Leanne, if you'd like to start off I'll go away. Thank you.

MS LENANE: Thank you, Gil. If I could just move to the first slide. So the statistics around children and homelessness, so as you can see, on any given day in Australia there are nearly 18,000 children being supported by homelessness services accompanying adults into the service with nearly a third of that, 30 per cent are indigenous children who are over represented in service delivery along with their parents. Just over half of the children will have experienced family violence and with you know 30 per cent of children who have experienced family violence, people who have experienced family violence will be under the age of 18 so that's quite a cohort of children in your service. So children do have a unique and individual experience of homelessness and it is different to the experience of the adults in their family, so it is their own experience.

So I just wanted to briefly touch on trauma and why I'm doing that is because the experience of homelessness can impact children in terms of trauma. Trauma can be a one-off event. It can be a repeat of a single event or it can be a number of adverse events and the more adverse events that we have the more likely we are to have some trauma impact. So distress and healing can take a long time from trauma and I think you know in our work and in our lives we see that often.

Trauma can undermine children's self-esteem and their identity and also have that cumulative effect when it is, you know, a number of adverse events that are happening on top of each other. I think one of the myths around homelessness and children is that the children are too young to know what's going on or they're shielded from what's happening by you know, their parents and acknowledge that parents do have the best intentions in terms of protecting their children from what is happening, what crisis the family is facing. So you know we debunk that, we say that children do experience homelessness and that again their experience is unique to them and has to be looked at on an individual basis so each child's experience.

Another I guess myth is that children are resilient and will bounce back and while, yes, children are resilient and hopefully can bounce back quickly from the adversity and the crisis that's happening within their family, I think one of the determinants, the key determinant of resilience is having those close personal relationships with parents and with primary carers in their life and so we really need to support that link between the families and the children and support the parents ability to parent, parent effectively during the crisis and during the trauma that's happening in the family.

Trauma an impact every domain of a child's development, be it physical, cognitive, emotional, social and homelessness, persistent homelessness particularly and the uncertainty and the lack of safety and security that that can pose to a child can certainly, you know, impact on their ability to be resilient and also when we're working with families we need to look at, you know, is the family resilient, are the parent’s role modelling resilience to their children. Often when we look at intergenerational trauma the parents don't have a great level of resilience either.

The impact of homelessness on children, so I touched on in the slide that trauma can impact on child development so on all of those domains of child development. So when working with children and with families we need to be mindful of to have some knowledge of child development and to really have a basic understanding of the age and stage milestones of child development and to really be mindful that the experience of homelessness may be impacting on children's ability to meet those milestones and I think keep in mind that there's never one size fits all for all children and that whilst the experience of homelessness is unique to each child, each child is also unique in their own development so there's no one size fits all. Homelessness impacts on connectedness and children can often lose connections whilst the family's homeless.

So if the family has had to move away from family friends, peers, extended family, school, community connections, children can lose all of those connections and that can impact on their ability to I guess form relationships, just to generally play, just to have friends. So the impact on connections can be quite impactful. The loss of connection to education is also another potential impact that we need to be mindful of children who are homeless. They can lose connection to school. They can have delayed enrolment in school, be quite absent, so lots of absences from school. They can present at school with the wrong uniforms and the wrong books and, you know, they're already behind the eight ball really in terms of education. So we really need them to be linking into education because we're aware that, you know, education is a crucial pathway out of poverty and out of disadvantage. Another impact on children are the poorer health outcomes.

Parents may not have the links with GPs, links with paediatricians. Children may miss out on appointments. They miss out on crucial immunisations and also the ability to practice preventative health care can be quite limited when a family is in homelessness and in crisis mode and I think particularly around, you know, preventative dental care. Preventative so dental hygiene is really quite important for children and for adults and it seems to be one of the sort of last minute things that people think of really in terms of waiting until the dental problems occur. Another one is impact on the parent/child relationships.

It can be often difficult for parents to understand the individual needs of their children and to be able to articulate these when they have their own crisis in their lives and when they're without a home and perhaps they're transient or in fact homeless. Parents can often find it difficult to engage with their children and to prioritise the children's needs sometimes over their own. Parents can present as crisis driven which can impact on problem solving and the way they make decisions and their resilience and that does impact on children's experience of homelessness and what's happening in the family.

So often the children don't have their needs met and can often adopt sort of unhealthy coping strategies, as can as can the adults. So I think in terms of parenting we need to look at is the parent able to parent consistently, do they have an understanding of the children's needs and are they able to meet the children's needs and I think particularly the children's emotional needs. So the long term impacts of homelessness, so I've already talked a bit about it. So of course there's disruption to school to social networks, to family relationships.

Often families have to move away from the place that they know, the people that they know, the services that they use and become quite dislocated. Studies show that people who experience homelessness as a child are significantly more likely to experience homelessness as an adult and also potentially to develop other health issues as an adult which could include psychiatric disorders, relationship issues, inability to form positive relationships. So I think the evidence is there that there are lots of long term impacts of homelessness on people later in life if they have experienced it as a child.

So an impact on people's employability, other studies show that by the time people are adults, you know, the unemployment rate is much higher if they're experienced trauma adversity and homelessness in their life and in their young life and people who have experienced homelessness as children may also struggle with parenting when they become older. So the impacts you know can be quite considerable but again there's no one size fits all and it is an experience that is unique to every individual. In terms of what you can do in your practice, so I think have an understanding of child development and how it impacts, have an understanding of working in a trauma informed way and what that means and then you can put that trauma informed lens over your work with families.

So have a think about what are your training needs, what are your professional development needs. Have a look at your you know organisation, does your organisation have a strong commitment to supervision. So do you have a regular supervision, do you reflect on your practice. So are there opportunities to reflect on your practice and to talk issues through as a team or perhaps have peer supervision. Do you know who the referral points are that you can refer families and children to.

So if it's not your role to work within that family whose role is it and we don't expect every practitioner to be a child therapist but we do say that you can work in a therapeutic way with children without being a therapist and we do understand that not everyone is a specialist in working with children but there are things that you can do to build on your practice and to enhance your skills. Listening and talking to children is one of those primary things that you can do. Have a look at your space that you work in. Have a walk through. Try and have a look at it from a child's angle. So is it child friendly, what does it tell you when you walk into an organisation, so what message is it giving to children.

Look at the resources that are in your waiting room, are they culturally appropriate. Is it a child friendly space. Is it a culturally safe place for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander families and children and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Is it a safe place for families and children from LGBTIQ+ families. So I think just do a bit of an audit of your workplace. Have a look at your waiting room. Have a look at your interview rooms and also does your organisation have a commitment to evaluation to hearing children's voices and then to incorporate them into your planning, into your program development. What's the organisational and legislative context around your role, so who do and can you share information with. Do you know how to report concerns for children's safety and wellbeing to the relevant authorities? Is your practice inclusive. Next slide. 
So again understand your role, the limitations to your role and this could include limitations around information sharing and confidentiality. Check your own emotional responses and I think to be aware that we work with a lot of distress. We work with quite distressed families . We work with traumatised families and so to be aware of your own responses. Be aware of vicarious trauma and practice really good self-care and access supervision.

Self-care and supervision I feel are crucial to I guess longevity in the field, given you know, the complexity and the number of issues that families have and I think, yes, we can all role model to our clients, to the parents. We can role model in our interactions with the children so we can all use our personal skills. We can all use what we've learnt and we can all use the tools that our organisations provide to us to really listen to and support children within the homelessness family context. It's crucial to support the parents to support their children so we can put the child's context, child's experience into context for parents. So as I mentioned before, so they can have some insight into the impact of homelessness on the children.

Parents do provide that lens to the world for children and they do model decision making and problem solving and resilience and all of those important attributes that we need as we grow into adults. And parents can act as a buffer to trauma for children. So by being able to reassure a child and giving them some meaning and establish and I think Trish mentioned it earlier, those real sense of routines and structure and predictability for children. All of that can assist in a child's trauma recovery and you as practitioners can do that by supporting parents to be all of those things for their children. Thanks Gil.

MS MUNRO: Hello, I am back. Okay, thanks so much for that Leeann, so much useful practical advice there and I know that we've got links to some of you’re the Statewide Children's Resource Program resources at the end of this presentation for people that may not be able to hang around. There's some fantastic practical stuff in there. So now over to our Q and A session and I have been sent a couple of questions already so one for Trish. If you could just explain what the difference is between public housing and community housing, please.

MS BURDEN: Yes. So the difference between public and community housing, public housing, state based housing authorities, so every state and territory in Australia has one. So if you were merely googling public housing in your state then some good information will come up. Equally if you were wanting to identify local community housing providers you can do the same thing. So google your state and community housing providers and a whole raft of organisational names will come up.

There are some peak associations also that you could keep an eye out for, Power Housing Australia is a fantastic resource and Shelter is a national alliance and I think there are representative organisations in every state as well. So back to the question, the difference between public and community housing, essentially there are similarities and differences. The similarities are that both entities provide affordable low-cost housing for people with complex and disadvantaged needs and particularly people on low income. The difference is that community housing providers probably have a more diverse property portfolio compared to public housing and community housing associations are able to put together different funding arrangements so we can develop and build our own properties as well, as do state housing authorities. Yes, so our common goal is to increase the supply of housing across the country.

MS MUNRO: Great, thanks, Trish. And a question for Leeann I think. How can practitioners work to support the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people experiencing homelessness. I know you touched on it a bit, maybe you could say a little bit more.

MS LENANE: Yes, thanks, Gil. I think crucially important, to be culturally aware. So to take advantage of any cultural competence training that your organisation is providing and I guess if your organisation isn't providing culturally competent practice training, to source it, to talk about it in supervision, to talk about it with your organisations so that you can be sure that you are providing a culturally safe space. So talk to your local indigenous organisations. Invite them around, build those relationships. I think my take- out message would be around partnerships and collaboration. So partner with the organisations out there who are the experts. Ring them and do secondary consultations so you know, if you're really not sure about something ring your local indigenous organisation and ask them. You know, are you on networks where the Aboriginal organisations are represented. So to be really aware of the organisations that are out there that are the experts and to learn as much as you can.

MS MUNRO: Yes, great advice. Thank you, Leanne. I think another one for you, Trish. Are there any countries that you're aware of that have a good balance with regard to affordable housing that promotes individual family and community health and wellbeing.

MS BURDEN: Good question. On the spot a little bit in that regard. I can't attest to kind of watching the international market in great detail but I do know that in some of the Scandinavian countries who have progressive systems around health and housing I think those countries come to mind more so than others. Obviously the UK they have a very large housing sector as well where their local councils and boroughs are probably more active in the provision of housing and development of housing than our local councils are in our Australia model.

MS MUNRO: Great, thank you. Another one I think for you, Leanne, here. How are the impacts of chronic homelessness compared to transitory homelessness, and I think our question was asking so when homelessness is caused by events such as bushfires or when the home is destroyed and there is a delay in rebuilding. What's the difference between that and the impacts on the child and chronic homelessness.

MS LENANE: I think the key to it is the recovery so if you have an adverse event such as a disaster, a bushfire, the key to recovering from trauma is the relationships around us and the way that adults are interacting with the children. When we think of a single event whilst it's traumatic but often, you know, we've got enough resilience to get over that. But then if you look at a number, multiple adverse events, we run the risk of, you know, that trauma cumulating, so cumulative trauma and that really impacts on the ability to make good decisions. Yes, sorry, I haven't answered that one very well but I think by the time it's chronic homelessness there's just so many issues that are present. Lots of connections that are lost, lots of issues, complexities on top that there aren't if it's just one single traumatic event. I hope that's made sense.

MS MUNRO: It made sense to me, thanks, Leeann, yes. I mean there's an intergenerationality I guess that kind of kicks in in some way as well, isn't there, when it's chronic homeliness. Yes. So I've got a question which I think is for you, Trish. How can I find a housing case manager for a family. Would that be one for you or one for Leeann?

MS BURDEN: Well, possibly both. What if I have a crack first and then Leeann feel free to jump in. So the question was about how to identify and find a case management.

MS MUNRO: Yes, how do I find a housing case manager for a family.

MS BURDEN: A housing case manager.


MS BURDEN: Okay. So my interpretation of the question then might be around how might a tenant or a potential tenant receive perhaps what we might loosely call tenancy support. So it might be directly in regard to matters directly related to the property, the tenant's ability to maintain the property, fulfil the terms of the lease. The landlord, the community housing provider or the state government, public housing provider would be working as closely as they can with the tenant to ensure and to avoid any risk of eviction, particularly for families and children.

If the support being sought for broader social issues in regard to perhaps drug and alcohol addiction or unemployment, gambling issues, mental health issues, some community housing providers have internal support arms to their business. So support might be available internally through the landlord organisation, or if not, which is the case with the organisation I work for we don't have those services provided in-house, that's where the last slide that I spoke to becomes really important in really getting to know support agencies in your local area and their areas of specialisation and how they can best support the person you have in mind. It might be if it's a larger support agency they may be quite dextrous in terms of the breadth of support they can provide. Other support agencies are more specialised in their delivery and provision of case management. So it's no kind of cookie cutter approach and it will really be dependent on you to look at what you think the needs of the person are but most importantly talk about the needs with the person so that you're hearing what they've got to say as well around the support they think they need and not based just on what you think they need.

MS MUNRO: Great. That was a comprehensive answer I think. Okay. So the questions are pouring in now. So I've got one here for you I think Leeann. For families who've experienced both family violence and homelessness is it best for a referral to be placed with a family violence centre in the first instance and then a separate referral sent to an agency specific to assisting homeless families source accommodation.

MS LENANE: Thanks, Gil. I think what I've found in my practice and as part of my current role in supporting practitioners within the sector is that often the homelessness needs are more pressing and take precedence over other issues and often we will see that people are addressing the homelessness issue because it's crisis driven, it's there now, they don't have a home, they're quite transient, they're sleeping rough and the other issues don't get addressed so then that accumulates into the poor health status and all of that. But I don't see why you couldn't do both referrals. I'm not saying leave the family violence issues to address the homelessness issues but I would say to do it all in tandem, to do as much as you can, to do as many referrals for the issues so that you are intervening as early as you can for any issues that's prevalent within the family.

MS MUNRO: Yes, I think always safety has to come first and I guess there's safety from both issues. But, yes, I think that's good advice. Thank you, Leeann. Okay. Trish, another one here for you I think. Once families link in with the community housing sector what preventative measures to reduce the risk of homelessness reoccurring are implemented.

MS BURDEN: Yes, I think that comes back to both the housing provider and the support providers being able to work together to ensure that the needs of the tenants are being met on two fronts, on their ability to be a successful tenant and at the same time receiving the support they might need to address whatever particular issues or challenges or barriers they're experiencing in their life. So in terms of the prevention of homelessness reoccurring, for us it's about sustainable tenancies and having eviction as the absolute last port of call or the last option and the good thing and the positive thing about both public housing and community housing is that the we're not the mainstream rental market and I'll careful not to name names but in your states and territories I'm sure you can think of some big landlord companies where there's no much room for error and threat of eviction or evictions will come pretty had and threat of eviction or evictions will come pretty hard and fast. However, in the public housing system we work very hard to work with specialist support agencies and the tenants themselves to ensure that the outcome is not homelessness or risk of homelessness again.

MS MUNRO: Great. Some great questions coming in here. Leeann, another one for you here, is it important for parents to seek support for their own trauma separately so that they can support children's mental health, or is it better to do it together as a family unit.

MS LENANE: Look, I think it might depend on, you know, what services are available but I think just to seek that support to do as many referrals as you can. It might depend on the therapist who is assisting. I think just early intervention so, yes, and it might depend on where you're working. You might be in a metro area where there are lots of services there available or you might be working in a rural area. I think as long as the support is sourced that's the main thing.

MS MUNRO: You said during your presentation, Leeann, it was really pertinent that practitioners don't have to be child trauma specialists or child practitioners to actually support child while they're supporting their parents as well. There's a lot that can be done to sort of buffer children from the children, you know, experienced by their parents and adversity they're experiencing. Yes.

MS LENANE: Yes, you're right, Gil, and we find that people often say I don't work with children because I don't know what I'm doing, I'm not a child specialist, what if I make things worse, what if I open up that can of worms, I can't put the lid back on, what if I make it just generally more difficult. You know, we always say there are basic things that you can do and if I can just take a minute, I didn't know if I'd have time during my presentation, but we can all do really basic things in terms of listening to and talking to children. Firstly just notice children, so acknowledge that they're there. Get down to their level. Respond appropriately. So be warm and non judgmental and open. So maintain appropriate eye contact. So adjust your voice. So look at the verbal cue, the non verbal cues so yours. So what message are you giving. So again be non judgmental. Look at your body language. So just generally show an interest and be open and engaging with children and that you genuinely are interested in their story and you were there to help in whatever way you can and if you can't help someone else will. So again be aware of, you know, the services that are out there and the referral networks and develop good partnerships and collaborations with services within your sector.

MS MUNRO: Yes, fantastic. Thanks, Leeann. I think I've got - no, here we go, here's one for Trish. In working with some young people who are 15 years old and experiencing homelessness there seems to be a gap in youth homelessness crisis accommodation where many of the service's minimum age is 16, how can we better support these young people.

MS BURDEN: That's a very good question. So as the questioner has suggested, 16 is a minimum age for which somebody could be signed to a tenancy lease agreement and the reason for that I guess is protection for the young person and protection for the landlord as well. I can talk in regard to Unity Housing's experience of where we've been about to work in a positive way with a range of support agencies where the support agency is what we called a head lessor. So the support agency takes out the lease on the property and then essentially sublets to younger people who might live in that property for a period of time. It's possible to do that for longer term tenure and also for respite so I think it's really the landlord and the support agency coming together to take a closer look at the needs of the young people who are needing to be housed, the willingness and appetite of the support agency to take out the head lease because that will carry a level of responsibility and a level of risk to their organisation as well. But it is definitely doable and we have a number of examples, give examples of that in our portfolio at the moment.

MS MUNRO: Great, thank you. Leeann, I must admit this was a question I was curious about as well. Why do you think the employment percentage is so low for those who have experienced homelessness before 15 years of age, is it because of ongoing homelessness or chronic mental health issues. It's just a shocking percent that isn't it.

MS LENANE: Yes. Look, it's probably a combination of the earlier you are homeless probably the greater disconnection from education so therefore people don't get an opportunity to pursue an education, early school dropout, lots of absences, lack of tertiary education. So it's probably primarily the lack of education but also again the poorer health outcomes, potential alcohol and other drug issues. Yes, lots and lots of issues.

MS MUNRO: And I think Trish talked about overcrowding, that it's very hard for kids to do their homework and so on if they're in too small accommodation or unstable. Okay. So what about this one, how has COVID-19 affected people's experiences of homelessness and how is this being addressed in Australia within the sector. Do either of you want to have a go at that one?

MS BURDEN: I'm happy to have a go at that one. So with the advent of COVID a lot of resources and I can talk from South Australia's perspective but I'm quite sure this was happening in all states and territories around the country where it really shone a light on the numbers of people who were sleeping rough and living in - or as I mentioned before, if we think about the definition of homelessness, living in unsafe and unsatisfactory housing options that don't meet community standards. So there was a real drive to identify people sleeping rough and to keep them safe essentially. When COVID first hit we weren't sure what the magnitude of that impact would be in Australia so a lot of resources were put to specialists, support agencies and in South Australia NEAMI was the support agency who really expanded that program.

People were identified as needing immediate housing and the state government provided a roof over people's head in the form of motel accommodation and predominantly in the Adelaide metro area and other options in regional areas as well. However a roof over somebody's head is not the end game and a number of people for whatever reason related to the life changes that they were experiencing at that time. The roof over their head was not their main driver so there were some people who were asked to move on from some of that motel accommodation. Now, I think that program has been extended and extended and I'm sorry but I’m not sure the status of that program and that program at the moment but I'm happy to do a bit of scouting around and research that a bit more and somehow get that information through to you.

MS MUNRO: Hang on, I'm just having a technical glitch. Okay. I think this one is also for you, Trish. Where can we find housing services and providers specific to culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

MS BURDEN: I would suggest it's not the configuration of the property that is under question or is the key factor sitting behind the question. It's more about support agencies who work with those communities who are able to identify and work together with either public housing authorities or community housing associations and we have that in the portfolio of Unity Housing. We have memorandums of understanding with the Market Resource Centre and another organisation whose name escapes me. It might have been on that last slide of mine and we're very passionate about working with cold communities and cold specialist agencies and I would suggest in all states and territories there would be the same. So yes, again just to reiterate, I don't think it's anything unique about the property. The uniqueness comes in the formation of the relationship between the housing provider and the support provider and the tenants.

MS MUNRO: Great. And I'm afraid you're still in the hot seat, Trish. I have another question. I have found that some housing services will prioritise single mothers with transitional housing over a single father who is the primary carer of children. Do you know if there's a reason for this.

MS BURDEN: No, I don't know if there's a reason for this and it probably shouldn't be the case. In my experience of managing and overseeing the provision of transitional housing here in South Australia where we manage I think nearly 300 transitional properties, it's less about the gender of the single parent but it's more about the needs of the family configuration or that unit. So it's not been my experience. I'm not sure where to go with a response to that.

MS MUNRO: Okay. Leeann, you didn't have any more to add on that presumably? Was it something you'd heard.

MS LENANE: I have heard it. Yes, I have heard it. The only thing I could really think of is that perhaps family violence may be present in the circumstances which adds a whole level of need to one family over another. But yes, certainly families would be assessed on the needs that they were facing at that given time.

MS MUNRO: Yes, great. So that brings us to the end of our webinar. Fantastic questions, presentations and thank you all so much for attending, particularly Trish and Leeann, it was fantastic today. Thanks for that and for Leeann for covering for Rowan. That was a bit of a last minute curve ball for you. Thanks also to CFCA for their behind the scene support and so on and don't forget people to have a look on the CFCA website for all the resources and links to lots of things that will support you in this work from both Trish and Leeann. Thank you very much.

MS LENANE: Thank you every one.

MS BURDEN: Thank you.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

1. Families and homelessness: Supporting parents and improving outcomes for children

Trish Burden, Leeann Lenane, Rowan Sweeney 
CFCA Emerging Minds Webinar 
10 February 2021 

2. Families and homelessness: Supporting parents and improving outcomes for children 

Trish Burden, Leeann Lenane, Rowan Sweeney

Emerging Minds

National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health

3. Learning outcomes

This webinar will explore:

  • the evidence that parent–child relationships can support children’s social and emotional wellbeing in experiences of homelessness 
  • how to recognise and respond to the impact of homelessness on parenting and the parent–child relationship in families
  • how practitioners can integrate this into their practice.

4. Acknowledgements

We recognise and pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of the Lands we work, play, and walk on throughout this Country. We acknowledge and respect their Traditional connections to their Land and Waters, culture, spirituality, family, and community for the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

5. Webinar series

2020/21 Emerging Minds series: Focus on infant and child mental health

Upcoming webinars include:

  • Practice approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of children living with a disability

Previous webinars in this series:

  • Responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing
  • Families and gambling: Helping parents and improving outcomes for children

6. Housekeeping

  • Send through your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.
  • All our webinars are recorded.
  • The slides are available in the handout section of Gotowebinar.
  • The video, audio, transcript and presenters’ responses to additional questions will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

7. Presenters

Trish Burden 
Community Inclusion Manager, Unity Housing

Leeann Lenane 
Statewide Children’s Resource Program Coordinator

Rowan Sweeney 
Statewide Children’s Resource Program Coordinator

Gill Munro (Facilitator) 
Workforce Development Officer, Emerging Minds

8. Housing and Support: Connecting Parents and Children to Place

Trish Burden, Unity Housing

9. Introduction

  1. Social housing in Australia
    1. Public housing
    2. Community housing
    3. Affordable housing
  2. Definition of homelessness
  3. Finding community housing providers in your state

10. Housing demand and supply

The impact of ‘never enough’ for families and children:

  • variable availability and timeliness of appropriate social housing
  • postcodes of disadvantage
  • disconnection and social exclusion
  • compromised safety, security, connectedness with school, neighbourhoods and broader communities. 

11. Outcome model for social housing

Text description: 

Figure 1: Outcome model for social housing

The seven domains of the NSW Human Services Outcomes Framework:

Social and Community

  • More social activities
  • Good quality housing


  • Improved economic outcome
  • Improved ability to leverage opportunities
  • Belief in self and hope for the future


  • Good quality housing
  • Improved health outcomes
  • Neighbourhood quality
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Improved health outcomes


  • People in social housing feel safe
  • Housing in safe environments
  • Good quality housing
  • Availability and stability of social housing
  • Domestic violence victims are able to live in safety
  • Children and young people are able to live in safety


  • Availability and stability of social housing
  • Sustainability of housing
  • Housing independence
  • Improved economic outcome


  • Housing affordability 
  • Housing stability
  • Less crowding
  • Less absenteeism
  • Less parental stress
  • Improved educational outcome


Measuring Social Housing Outcomes: Interim Report 2016. Family and Community Services. NSW Government.

12. Positive future pathways

  • Housing First approach with appropriately funded and enduring support services
  • Establishing Housing + Support Partnerships whereby social and tenancy support follows people, rather than people moving to get the support
  • Integrated case management model

13. Contact Details

Trish Burden 
Community Inclusion Manager 
Unity Housing Company

M: 0418 288 741 
E: [email protected]
LinkedIn: Trish Burden

14. Children’s experience of homelessness

Leeann Lenane and Rowan SweeneyStatewide Children’s Resource Program

15. Children and homelessness statistics

  • In 2019–20 on any given day, 17,900 children were being supported by homelessness services across Australia.
  • Of these, 51% will have experienced family violence.
  • Indigenous children were significantly over-represented in these statistics. Despite making up 3.1% of the Australian population in 2019–20, nearly a third of all children supported were Indigenous (30%).
  • Coincidentally, 30% of all homelessness/FV clients were under the age of 18.

16. Trauma

  • Complex trauma usually occurs within relationships
  • Distress and healing can take a long time even when the event is in the past
  • Trauma can undermine children’s self-esteem and development of identity
  • Cumulative harm can occur when there are multiple adverse events either as a single reoccurring event or multiple reoccurring events or circumstances and can impact all of the domains of child development

17. Impact of homelessness on children

  • Physical impact
  • Emotional impact/mental health
  • Impact on family relationships
  • Impact on community connectedness
  • Poorer health outcomes
  • Poorer educational outcomes

18. Long-term impacts of homelessness

  • Homelessness causes disruption to schooling, social networks and family relationships.
  • People who experience homelessness as a child are significantly more likely to experience homelessness as an adult (Flatau et al., 2012: Shelton et al., 2009).
  • Similarly, there is strong evidence indicating children experiencing homelessness are more likely to develop psychiatric disorders as an adult.

19. Long-term impacts of homelessness part 2

  • Children who first experience homelessness under 15 years of age have an employment rate of just 10% by the time they’re adults, as opposed to 24% if they’re homeless after 15 (Cobb-Clark & Zhu, 2017).
  • Children who experience homelessness may struggle with parenting when they become adults. 

20. Your practice

  • Be aware of your training/professional development needs.
  • Are you practicing in a trauma-informed way?
  • Do you view the family within a trauma-informed lens?
  • Do you have an understanding of child development?
  • Are you part of a supportive team around the family or are you working in isolation?
  • Do you utilise supervision, team supervision, reflective practice – is this available?
  • Are you aware of external services to refer clients to? Children who have experienced trauma relating to family violence and or homelessness benefit from professional help (Bunston, 2012).

21. Listening to and talking with children


  • Child-friendly spaces
  • Commitment to hearing children’s voices                                            
  • Inclusive practice
  • Evaluation – incorporating client’s voices
  • Process for dealing with disclosures
  • Organisational and legislative context 

22. Listening to and talking with children part 2

Personal skills

  • Understand your role, limitations to the role
  • Organisational and legislative implications?
  • Age-appropriate information and explanations
  • Check your own emotional responses
  • Trauma lens?
  • Role model to parents

23. Supporting parents

  • Parents/caregivers are ‘emotional shields’ for children – it’s important that parents are reminded that their children are likely to be affected.
  • Caregivers/parents provide children with meaning and a lens through which to perceive the world, what’s normal and what’s not. To do that, they need to listen to the child.
  • Attentive attachment figures that meet a child’s needs can provide a bulwark to trauma by communicating safety – (‘The removal of threat is not the same as the feeling of safety’ – Stephen Porges) and by providing the child a way to contextualise what has happened.

24. Supporting parents part 2

  • By being able to reassure a child, providing meaning essential for processing and re-establishing a concrete sense of routine, parents/caregivers can assist children’s trauma recovery. 

25. Resources

  • Developmental Milestones and the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards
  • The National Centre on Family Homelessness, ‘Trauma Informed Organisational Toolkit for homelessness services’
  • Wendy Bunston, ‘Refuge for Babies in Crisis’
  • The Blue Knot – Resources for complex trauma – blueknot.org.au
  • Phoenix Australia – phoenixaustralia.org
  • Statewide Children’s Resource program resources:
    • ‘See, Listen, Respond: A guide to engaging with children experiencing homelessness and family violence’.
    • Professional trauma guides
    • ‘Supporting your Child’

26. References

  • Bunston, W., & Sketcherly, R. (2012). Refuge for babies in crisis: How crisis accommodation services can assist infants and their mothers affected by family violence. Melbourne: Royal Children's Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program. 
  • Cobb-Clark, D. A., Zhu, A. (2017). Childhood homelessness and adult employment: The role of education, incarceration, and welfare receipt. J Popul Econ, 30, 893–924. doi.org/10.1007/s00148-017-0634-3
  • Flatau, P., Conroy, E., Eardley, T., Spooner, C. & Forbes, C. (2012). Lifetime and intergenerational experiences of homelessness in Australia. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute
  • Shelton, K., Taylor, P., Bonner, A., & Van den Bree, M. (2009). Risk factors for homelessness: Evidence from a population-based study. Psychiatric Services, 60(4), 465–472.

27. Q & A Discussion

Related resources

Related resources


Community Inclusion Manager, Unity Housing
Trish has over 25 years’ experience working in the Community Services sector with a significant focus on service development and delivery spanning health, disability, antipoverty, community housing and homelessness services resulting in pathways for people away from homelessness, poverty and addiction.

Trish was the Chief Operations Officer with Unity Housing for nine years before following her passion for tenant engagement and community connectedness into the role of Community Inclusion Manager. Her career achievements include successful service delivery partnerships in the areas of sustainable tenancies, tenant engagement, community inclusion and neighbourhood connections. Trish’s professional accomplishments are supported by qualifications including a Master of Business Administration, post-graduate certificate in Quality Management, post-graduate certificate in Social Sciences and Bachelor of Business.

Statewide Children’s Resource Program Coordinator
Leeann has worked in the community welfare sector in rural Victoria for 35 years in a number of fields including homelessness support, family violence, integrated family services, financial counselling, out-of-home care and intake. Leeann’s current role is as a Statewide Children’s Resource Program regional coordinator supporting homelessness and family violence services to enhance their capacity to recognise and respond to the needs of children and young people in their service. The service offers information, resources, secondary consultation and brokerage to meet the case plan needs of children within these programs and works with government and peak bodies to ensure that there are common understandings of the needs of children in the homelessness and family violence space.

Leeann recently, as a project worker, delivered the Multi Agency Risk Assessment & Management framework training to all services receiving funding after the Victorian Black Summer bushfires. She has a Graduate Certificate in Child & Family Practice.

Statewide Children’s Resource Program Coordinator
Rowan has extensive experience in the homelessness sector, having worked in intake, family case management and financial education. In a previous life, Rowan was a primary school teacher in regional Victoria. Rowan’s current role is a member of the Statewide Children’s Resource Program — a program aiming to improve outcomes for children experiencing homelessness and family violence by providing expert advice, high quality resources and material support to children. Rowan’s passions include social justice, child development and the neurobiology of trauma.


Practice Development Officer, Emerging Minds

Gill is a social worker who has spent many years as manager of a large specialist drug and alcohol service. During her time in this role Gill noticed that the service experienced huge demand and easily met its KPIs but that it could do better in attracting people from diverse backgrounds. Gill’s passion for ensuring equity and access to the service, together with her discovery that very few people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds accessed the service, led her to seek innovative ways the service could connect with migrant families and communities to facilitate their access.