Young homeless pushed back to family

August 13, 1997

By Marina Cameron

Four states intend to trial changes to the young homeless allowance which require 15 year olds to have regular meetings with a family go-between before they can receive their allowance.

According to the Australian, WA family and children's services minister, Rhonda Parker, suggested the scheme as a means of reintegrating young people into "family life" because this was the "best way to support them".

At a meeting of state community services ministers on July 31, SA, Queensland and Tasmania agreed to join the trial, but NSW, Victoria and the ACT "expressed strong reservations about this initiative being effective on its own".

Young people would have to meet fortnightly with a person agreed to by them and their parents. For now, the scheme will only apply to young people not at risk at home and where the parents or guardians are keen for reconciliation. Given the conservative pro-family Coalition state and federal governments, however, there is significant potential for this scheme to be extended.

It is hard enough for young people forced to leave conflict-ridden home situations without also being forced to prove that they are "officially" homeless by undergoing psychological evaluations, meetings with social workers and, in some cases, getting their parents to sign a statutory declaration that they are not supporting the child.

Young people in conflict with their parents about the way they want to live their lives — gay or lesbian youth, for example — will find it particularly difficult to prove that they deserve the allowance.

From next July the homeless allowance will be incorporated into the Common Youth Allowance. The CYA cuts all unemployment benefits for under-18 year olds and assesses young people according to their parents' income and assets up to the age of 21 for unemployed and 25 for students.

The thrust of the CYA is to get families to pick up the bill for their children's studies and for the government's failure to create enough jobs. The consequent social and economic pressure on families will make it increasingly difficult for young people to leave home, even if their home situations are distressing, restrictive or abusive.

There are special measures within the CYA for young people considered "at risk". This will only apply to the very worst cases, however, and the reality is that young people who are most at risk are often those who find it most difficult to prove.

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