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Research to improve responses to the needs of independent young people under 16 years of age who experience homelessness

Existing policies and services for young people aged 12 -15 years who experience homelessness and are not in the care of their parents or guardians do not adequately cater for their needs. For the purpose of this proposal these young people will be referred to as ‘independently homeless young people under 16 years’. Policy in this area is rarely targeted to the specific legal and practical circumstances of young people under 16 years of age, and young teenagers who are unable to live at home are rarely prioritised by the care system (Eldridge et al., 2008) because of the practical difficulties of finding and maintaining out-of-home placements for young people of this age group, and the poor outcomes for young people leaving the care system. The care system has been characterised as a fast track to homelessness, the justice and mental health systems (Liddell, 2005) and the Council to Homeless Persons recommended an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into care and protection services for young people aged 12-17 years (Tsorbaris, 2008). Reconnect services aim to reconcile young people with their families but these are not suitable where abuse, family violence, or family instability and entrenched conflict has precipitated homelessness for the young person. This research aims to characterise the needs of this cohort by capturing young people’s stories to gain a better understanding of how policy and services could be developed that would offer appropriate support. This information will be contextualised through interviews with service providers and by reference to other research reported in the literature.

Research focus

This project will:

  1. Document the lived experience of homelessness in independent young people under 16 years of age.
  2. Characterise the existing support systems and challenges experienced by service providers in meeting the needs of this cohort.
  3. Synthesise the existing literature with the findings of this research to identify policy directions to improve the systems of support.

In 2008, youth homelessness cost over one billion dollars annually. Prevention of youth homelessness is cost-effective, but services are failing independently homeless young people under 16 years. Pathways into youth homelessness typically commence at this age. Research is required for effective policy and service provision to support this group and prevent long-term homelessness. This project will document the lived experience and service needs of independently homeless young people (under 16 years) and challenges experienced by service providers in meeting the needs of this group. This study will benefit young people by informing policy and service improvement in WA and nationally.


  • Eldridge, D., MacKenzie, D., Clay, N., & Dethlefs, W. (2008). Australia's Homeless Youth: A report of the National Youth Commission Inquiry into Homelessness. Brunswick, Victoria: National Youth Commission.
  • Liddell, M. (2005). Childhood abuse, limited intervention and homelessness: Pathways to the mental health and justice systems. International Journal of Prisoner Health, 1(2/3/4), 263-275. doi: 10.1080/17449200600553217
  • Tsorbaris, D. (2008). Editorial: Youth Homelessness in Australia. Parity, 21(6), 3.

Funding agency

ECU - Industry Collaboration Grant
Commissioner for Children and Young People

Project duration

May 2017 – April 2018


Associate Professor Trudi Cooper
Ms Trish Heath, Director Policy and Research (Commissioner for Children and Young People)

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