when Parkerville Children and Youth Care was established in 1903, children and young people often became homeless if their parents fell ill or were otherwise unable to care for them – there weren’t second or third generation family members to look after the children.
Parkerville Children and Youth Care would step in and may still be best remembered by some readers for the Parkerville Children’s Home which once operated as an orphanage at the corner of Roland and Beacon Roads in Perth’s Hills.
Today those premises are still nestled in a beautiful bush setting, but are used for a range of purposes including Parkerville’s Education and Employment and Training program – transforming the lives of children at risk of dropping out of, or failing, high school.
Just as Parkerville has evolved over the decades, so too have the most common causes of youth homelessness. Today, it might be the breakdown of the family unit, domestic violence, substance abuse, or issues with sexuality and gender identity, poverty and unemployment.
Parkerville Children and Youth Care (Parkerville) has several programs designed to support young people who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.
These modern services are part of the evolution of an organization that has provided a safety and security net for children and young people for almost 120 years.
In response, Parkerville works closely with the Department of Communities and has expanded its services to meet the needs of young people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness.
Chief Executive Officer Kim Brooklyn has been leading further expansion into the area of youth homelessness, backed by a talented and committed inter-disciplinary team.
“The drivers are always the same,” said Ms Brooklyn. “Achieving the best possible outcomes for children and young people, whatever that may look like, by providing the therapeutic and other support they need to recover, rebuild and thrive – in a safe, secure environment.”
Parkerville’s Out of Home Care services – the Armadale Youth Accommodation Service, Belmont Youth Program and the Young Women’s Program – are all about providing supportive places for children and young people to live – places where they feel valued, safe and secure; where the people who surround them are passionate about their wellbeing and genuinely care about their future.
They offer therapeutic services and specialist support, outside of home, to help children and young people reach their fullest potential by, for example, reconnecting with education or new training, undertaking trauma counselling, or beginning life skills training.
The ultimate goal is to reunite children and young people with their families, so they can either return to live with them or simply enjoy meaningful family connections, which research shows, can help them thrive into the future.
The complex needs of children and young people, and the complex family environments from which they come, demand even more.
The Parkerville Youth Homelessness Services and Support – Reconnect and Moving Out Moving On – live up to their names. They provide young people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness the support they need to reconnect or regain relationship with family, to gain secure housing, and to achieve independence.
“The young people who engage with these services work with us to claim their identity and purpose, and ultimately create a better future for themselves and us all,” said Ms Brooklyn.
Moving On. Moving Out is a safety net designed to help young people, aged 15 to 21 years, who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness or residing in crisis or temporary accommodation. Like all Parkerville’s work, they are practical and centered around each individual, recognizing and embracing their individual needs.
Reconnect tries to identify children at an earlier stage – to prevent young people from becoming homeless and encourage them to stay connected with family and the community.
Changing the record
Parkerville is examining existing best practice “family reunification models” interstate and Reconnect is a step towards future expansion in this area. Run on a case management system, workers walk alongside young people and their families. The aim is to stop anyone aged 12 to 18 years from becoming homeless. It’s free, voluntary, and confidential – helping a young person’s relationships with family and of friends by providing support, information, counseling and mediation.
“We spend a lot of time explaining the options,” Ms Brooklyn says. “Not just with Reconnect but with all our programs. It is not that people don’t want life to be different, they just don’t know how it can be different. In showing them how, we give them hope. Where there is a sliver of hope, we always expand on that, building connections and contact with family wherever we can.
“Families can be hard. And there is no pressure on families with whom we work to be some kind of ‘perfect unit’,” Kim explains.
“It is about being the best sort of family you can be. If they can go home and resolve the issues that created barriers between parents and children, then it’s a win-win[MM1] for everyone.
A shortage of social housing in Perth and the regions creates “huge challenges” for Ms Brooklyn and her team at Parkerville.
“There is simply not enough,” she says. “While we might do some great work here, when you run out of housing options and there aren’t immediate accommodation solutions, it creates challenges.”
CEO of Vinnies WA Susan Rooney agrees.
“You cannot end homelessness if you don’t end youth homelessness, and that requires a different response to adult homelessness,” she said.
“Around 50 per cent of rough sleepers have been homeless as children and young people. Based on the best available evidence and practice, we won’t be able to end homelessness without addressing the causes of youth homelessness and having a funded plan to end youth homelessness in place.”
Vinnies WA runs three specialist homelessness services across Perth. These include Tom Fisher House, which provides intensive intervention services for adults, and two Passages Youth Engagement Hubs – one in Perth, the other in Mandurah – which provide services to young people. The Passages Hubs are delivered as a joint venture between Vinnies WA and the Rotary Club of Perth and Mandurah.
These services operate within a Low Threshold and Change model enabling people who often can’t access other services to be given highly specialized support to find a pathway out of homelessness.
Vinnies is also a member of the West Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, and a committed participant in the Improvement Team aligned with the Zero Project.
Parkerville is now much more than a child protection or out of home care service. Programs like Reconnect and Moving On Moving Out are quiet achievers – not always visible in the community, but definitely achieving results.
“In some ways it’s good to be under the radar,” said Ms Brooklyn. “We are delivering on our promises and on our contracts but there is no razzamatazz around it because our purpose is to help young people blend into the community, in a sense.
“On the other hand, that can mean some of the amazing things our team achieves and the exceptional work being done don’t always receive the recognition they should,” she said. “That’s something we’ll work on too.”
Ms Brooklyn and her team are constantly moved by the success stories of the young people who pass through Parkerville on their life journey.
“I see parents who, for years and years and years, have heard nothing but bad things about their child and they hear – for the first time – how amazing their child is. The children and young people we serve at Parkerville are amazing.
“They cope with things no adult could cope with in the same way. They are our superstars and superheroes.”
Vinnies WA is running a number of events and activities for clients at its homelessness services throughout the week. Our Passages Youth Engagement Hub in Peel is engaging in a community event with other support services in the area. Passages Perth is hosting a range of activities ranging from free haircuts to a healthy eating workshop. The hub will also feature in Shelter WA’s Lived Experience Walking Tours, where people with lived experience of homelessness will walk with attendees through the streets of Perth, sharing their insights on sleeping rough and what support they needed to survive and to get off the streets and into a home.
Every year, Vinnies WA hosts the CEO Sleepout at Optus Stadium, which this year brought together more than 100 business and community leaders.
“Throughout the night, participants learn about homelessness in Western Australia, the work Vinnies does, and the important role that business and community can play in reducing homelessness,” said Ms Rooney.
“CEOs hear first-hand from people who have experienced homelessness. Once official proceedings wrap up, participants are off to experience a night out in the cold.
“This year, the CEO Sleepout raised over $900,000 for Vinnies WA’s homelessness services. Beyond the event, Vinnies regularly engages with corporate partners to raise awareness of homelessness.”