Does camping count? Children's experiences of homelessness

Homeless youth Homelessness Homeless families Rough sleepers Victoria
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Summary: In Victoria, children constitute a third of people attending homelessness services. This research aimed to gain insight into the homelessness experience of children accommodated in transitional support services in an urban setting. It is the first major investigation of children’s perspectives on the experience of homelessness in Victoria.

Approval to conduct the research was obtained from the University of Melbourne Behavioural and Social Sciences Human Ethics Sub-Committee of the Human Research Ethics Committee, and a reference group was appointed to oversee the project. Informed consent was sought from all participants, with special care taken to ensure that children were able to understand the process. Fundamental to this project was endorsement of the principle that children are competent to participate in research that is ethically sound and in which they are treated with respect.

We interviewed 20 children aged 6 to 12 from diverse ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, as well as 12 parents or guardians and 8 case workers from homelessness services. Children were interviewed using a set of interactive activities designed both to make the experience enjoyable and to provide diverse opportunities for children to express their thoughts. There was value in having multiple sources of information: not only a range of activities, but parents or guardians to provide background and context. Children could have a different perspective from the parent who was interviewed and having, in some cases, more than one child from the same family contributed to an appreciation of families’ changing circumstances.

Most children were living in transitional supported accommodation and had been there for less than a year. They had experienced between three and eleven changes of residence, which had included hotels or motels, other varieties of emergency accommodation, refuges, sleeping rough or in cars, rooming or boarding houses, and caravan parks.

Children revealed their concept of ‘home’. Home is a place where significant family members live. It has enough room for each person to be comfortable and give them some privacy, and it feels safe. Safety comes from not having to share with strangers, especially people affected by drugs and alcohol, and from living in a friendly and familiar neighbourhood. Home has a sense of permanence, of structural stability, and of being ‘ours’.

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