Young people who become homeless before the age of 16 years face particular problems finding appropriate services that address their needs. This has been acknowledged in Australia and internationally, but successful system-wide resolution has not been achieved. The purpose of this study was to find out what would be required to improve policy in this area. The study set out to establish both the nature of the problem, and the nature of the changes needed to improve outcomes for young people. The research documented young people’ experiences of early homelessness, and service provider’s perspectives on the adequacy of existing services. These were compared with the theoretical models and assumptions that informed the design of policy and service delivery. The study found that existing policy left some homeless 12-15 year olds with fewer options and in much riskier circumstances than homeless young people aged 16-17 years. This perverse outcome occurred because the theoretical assumptions that informed policy did not align with either the reality of service delivery or with young people’s capabilities and aspirations. The study concluded that a new paradigm was required to improve outcomes. More varied types of accommodation are required for homeless young people under 16 years, and, where developmentally appropriate, young people aged 12-15 years should be treated as mature minors, and assistance should be provided through supported youth accommodation services.
Journal of Applied Youth Studies, 3, 43-64.