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1.3.2 Homeless young people

Last Modified: 22-Mar-2022 Review Date: 30-Nov-2010


To guide child protection workers in the provision and coordination of protection and support to at risk homeless young people.

  • The Department of Communities (the Department) must assess children who present as homeless.

  • We must also inform parents of the child's whereabouts unless we believe that this would place the child at risk of harm. A decision not to inform the parents must be endorsed by the district director.

  • The Department must accept referrals from Centrelink under the criteria of the Youth Protocol: An agreement concerning referral, assessment, case management and support for homeless young people.

  • We must assess and respond to referrals from Specialist Homelessness Services in line with the Protocol between SAAP Services and the Department for Child Protection (September 2008).

  • We are responsible for providing alternative care and accommodation for young people in the CEO's care who are involved in the criminal justice system or who are under the age of 16 years and unable to live at home.

Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities. 

Process Maps

Not applicable.

Information and Instructions

  • Children and Community Services Act 2004 - relevant sections
  • Homeless children under 15 years of age
  • Accommodation assessment issues
  • Unendorsed Placements (children not in the CEO’s care)
  • The Youth Protocol
  • The Department's responsibilities for accomodation for young people
  • Children and Community Services Act 2004 - relevant sections

    • Section 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle
    • Section 31 CEO may cause inquiries to be made about child
    • Section 32 Further action by the CEO
    • Section 80 Guidelines for placement of certain children, and 
    • Section 81 Consultation before placement of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Child.

    Homeless children under 15 years of age

    The Department, in conjunction with parents, has a role to play where a child under the age of 15:

    • refuses to return home
    • cannot return home because action needs to be taken to safeguard or promote a child’s wellbeing and/or
    • is not allowed to return home because their parents are refusing to let the child live in the home.

    Child protection workers should remind parents of their parental responsibility to find appropriate solutions.

    When it has been determined that action should not be taken to safeguard or promote the child’s wellbeing and no other viable accommodation options have been identified by the family, consideration could be given to entering into a negotiated placement agreement (NPA), with the parent’s consent. For more information refer to Chapter 3.4: Negotiated placement agreements. Where there is information to suggest a child may be at risk in the home, the child protection worker should intake for further inquiries and determine whether a Child Safety Investigation (CSI) is required. Refer to Chapter 2.2: Conducting a child safety investigation for further information.


    Accommodation assessment issues

    Agreed private accommodation arrangement

    Where possible the child and their parents should be involved in making plans for the child’s living arrangements.

    Consideration should be given to accommodation options with extended family members or family friends acceptable to both child and parents.

    The child protection worker can arrange or facilitate a meeting with the young person, their parents and other significant people in the young person’s life to look at care and accommodation options.  If the outcome of this meeting results in a person being identified by the family as able to provide care for a child as a private agreement, no written agreement is required. In this situation, the child is not in the CEO’s care and no case management is required. Any decisions should be recorded as an interaction task in Assist.

    Unendorsed placements

    Where we are working with a child and their family, an urgent assessment should be conducted by the child protection worker when the child refuses to reside with the family or the carer and self-selects other accommodation. The focus of this assessment should be on the risks to a child's safety and what needs to occur to keep the young person safe. This includes:

    • obtaining consent from the adults and relatives for a Department record check, using Form 395 Record Check Consent form.  This must be submitted as soon as possible to establish any potential risk factors. Refer to Chapter 4.1: Record checks and the Working with Children Check
    • a basic description of the household with the focus on how it meets the child's needs for safety and wellbeing
    • recording the action taken, key decisions and rationale of the assessment, record check, etc for the adult/relatives in the child's case file (Objective file), and 
    • developing a case plan, approved by the team leader.

    Unendorsed Placements (children not in the CEO’s care)

    Unendorsed placements should be assessed by child protection workers in a timely manner to identify the risks to a child's safety.  Where an unendorsed placement is assessed as unsuitable, child protection workers are required to assess whether the placement is dangerous, or unsuitable but not dangerous. Dangerous unendorsed placements warrant an immediate response.

    Unsuitable, but not dangerous unendorsed placements can only be considered when the child refuses to stay in alternative accommodation. Child protection workers must use their professional judgement regarding the risk posed by the accommodation arrangement, the potential harm if the child enters a self destructive lifestyle on the streets, and any other consequences which may arise if we do not support that accommodation arrangement. In reaching a decision, team leader’s endorsement must be sought.

    Dangerous placements

    Where an unendorsed placement is dangerous to the child's wellbeing (for example, where sexual exploitation is occurring), we have a responsibility to secure the child's safety. This action may include applying to the Court for a warrant  to access and/or take the child into provisional protection and care without a warrant under s37 of the Act. Endorsement from the district director is required.

    Case management

    Generally, we will not endorse or support an unsuitable accommodation option, and will not provide financial support. Reasons for a decision contrary to this should be well documented on the child’s case file. Controversial action should be documented and brought to the attention of the team leader, who has the responsibility to inform the district director.

    Where a child chooses to remain in unsuitable accommodation (but not a dangerous accommodation arrangement), we have case management responsibility for the child, and the unendorsed placement arrangement must be recorded in in the child's case file (Objective file).

    In these cases the child protection worker should develop a safety plan to assist and encourage the child to find more suitable accommodation, propose strategies to minimise any identified risk factors (including looking at safety options or needs such as safe sex) and provide other supports as required to the child. The unsuitability of the accommodation should be discussed regularly by the child protection worker when meeting with the child, so as to provide continuing encouragement to access more suitable accommodation.

    When it is assessed to be in the child's interests to provide financial support, we can provide financial support as part of case support costs obtained through the case plan. Financial support can also include the provision of food vouchers, money for clothes and for other necessities.


    The Youth Protocol

    The Youth Protocol: An agreement concerning referral, assessment, case management and support for homeless and unsupported young people (the Youth Protocol) outlines operating guidelines between the Department and Centrelink for the provision and coordination of protection and financial support to at-risk young people.

    Centrelink will refer young people to us in line with the youth protocol. All referrals from Centrelink must be case managed and therefore require intake.

    The operating guidelines provide procedures for the following categories of young people who present to Centrelink for financial assistance:

    • unsupported young people under 15 years of age
    • young people aged 15-17 years inclusive who are assessed to be at risk of significant harm, and 
    • young people in the CEO’s care.

    Unsupported and homeless children under 15 years of age are considered by us to be at risk of significant harm by virtue of their age.

    It is not Centrelink's responsibility to provide income support to children under 15 years of age. Centrelink will only pay a benefit to a person under 15 years in the most exceptional circumstances. The responsibility for these children lies either with their parents and/or with the Department, under the provisions of the Act.

    Generally, we are responsible for all aspects of the wellbeing, including financial support, of children in the CEO's care.

    Referrals are initially made by telephone and followed by completion of a referral form on the same day. Our role includes assessing the option of the child returning to their family or facilitating a NPA. The least intrusive option to secure a child's safety should be sought. Refer to Chapter 3.4: Negotiated placement agreements and Chapter 1.1: Parent and adolescent conflict.

    Upon completion of the CSI, we should advise the Centrelink referring officer of the outcome within one working day and provide information on the ongoing supports we will provide to the child, irrespective of Centrelink’s provision of income support.

    The result of the assessment should be in the form of recommendations and should specify:

    • whether or not our assessment indicates that the child is financially unsupported and homeless
    • whether or not our assessment indicates the child has experienced, or at risk of, harm
    • if we have developed a case plan or care plan to work with the child/family
    • whether or not we recommend that Centrelink assess the child's eligibility for income support
    • what concerns exist and what services, if any, the child and their family might benefit from
    • what services we will be providing, for example, ongoing monitoring of the child' situation, and 
    • where a NPA cannot be reached and the immediate risk is not sufficient to justify seeking a protection order application, a case discussion/review between the Centrelink Senior Regional Social Worker and the team leader or senior responsible officer should be held within five working days of the assessment.

    The Department's responsibilities for accomodation for young people

    The SAAP Service Protocols

    The Protocols between SAAP Services and the Department for Child Protection in order to improve linkages between the Department for Child Protection and SAAP Services (the SAAP Service Protocols) outline agreed practice for service delivery and case management responsibilities between agencies and the Department.

    Provisions within the Act enable children aged less than 18 years to be accommodated at Homelessness Services for Young People.

    Children who are residing in Specialist Homelessness Services under s.32 (1)(a) and s.32 (1)(c) of the Act are considered to be in the CEO's care.

    Circumstances where placement services may be appropriate include the child refusing to return to parental care, parents refusing to have the child home, or parents) not willing to enter into a NPA.

    Agencies may be funded to provide crisis or transitional accommodation services or a combination of both. Child protection workers should consult the senior child protection worker placement services (SCPWPS) about the availability and nature of services.

    Homelessness Services for Young People are able to accommodate children under the age of 15 years in exceptional circumstances. It should be noted that a placement service under s.32(1)(a) of the Act is an action of last resort and is not appropriate for this age group.

    The Protocol outlines the following agency responsibilities:

    • We have case management responsibility for:

      •  a child under the age of 15

      • a 15 year old without consent of their parents

      • a child at significant risk of harm, or

      • a child in the care of the CEO

    • Specialist Homelessness Services will inform us of:

      •  the admission of children under the age of 15 years

      • children aged 15 years and accommodated without consent of parents, or

      • young people aged 16 -17 years believed to be of risk of significant harm.

    • if a child is in the CEO’s care, a care plan must be developed within seven working days after the child has been taken into care. Refer to Chapter 3.4: Care planning - provisional care plans, care plans and Viewpoint, and 

    • if there are a number of organisations involved with a child who is homeless, the roles and responsibilities of each agency must be coordinated and agencies should act in the best interests of the child.

    Unaccompanied children under 15 years of age

    The Department must complete an Child Safety Investigation for the  child. If appropriate, we will attempt to negotiate for the child to return to their family with appropriate support, or locate an alternative placement. In some circumstances, the agency the child has approached may be considered the most appropriate placement.

    Where appropriate, we should develop a case plan in collaboration with the child, their parents, other family members, guardian (if applicable) and the service provider.

    The Department and the Homelessness Service for Young People must jointly agree on a case management/support plan. Planning should occur as soon as practicable.

    After hours and emergency support will form part of the case management/support plan.

    Unaccompanied young people aged 15-17 years

    The procedures for children under 15 years old also applies to young people aged 15-17 years who are accommodated in a Homelessness Service for Young People without their parent's consent.

    We are responsible for case management coordination for a young person in the CEO's care aged 15 -17 years. In this situation and wherever possible, the Department and the service will agree on the coordination of support services before the service is accessed. Where this is not possible, planning should occur as soon as practicable after the young person has accessed the service.