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Opinion: Why don’t we use our prevention superpower?

Ten years ago the National Youth Commission Inquiry (NYC) focused their welcome attention on the troubling and prevailing problem of youth homelessness. Ten years on they have released a report card on how Australia is tracking on addressing 10 ‘must do’ issues.

The results are not heartening.

The NYC inquiry commenced 20 years after Kids Under Cover had started working quietly on interrupting the spiral of youth homelessness by trialling an innovative program of installing portable studio accommodation in the backyards and gardens of those young people who are most at risk. By strengthening the networks and bonds of young people to their families and carers, by giving the households valuable space for much-needed privacy, Kids Under Cover has repeatedly proven it is possible to prevent youth homelessness before it begins.

Imagine our disappointment, but not surprise, when today we see that NYC’s report card showing that prevention is the issue in which Australia has made the least progress in tackling youth homelessness.

In 2008 the NYC referenced prevention and early intervention in youth homelessness as ‘turning off the tap’. At the time, Kids Under Cover celebrated that finally prevention was being identified as an important element in helping address the problem of youth homelessness. Fast-forward to today and the NYC Report Card shows that “little investment has been made and little done to reduce the flow of young people into homelessness”.

At Kids Under Cover we appeal to all sides of politics to recognise the power of prevention and to invest accordingly. While the Victorian Government continues to be a great supporter of our programs and preventative measures, even their investment is not enough to meet demand. And that challenge is echoed interstate and at a national level.

Not only is Kids Under Cover’s work stopping young people from entering the homelessness cycle, our own investigations reveal the financial savings also made. Kids Under Cover’s interventions have not only directly benefitted at-risk young people, but by extension have benefitted their families, equating to over $30million worth of social benefit over 6 years to those immediate affected.

In addition, the criminal justice system, health system and specialist homelessness services have made sizeable savings as a result of Kids Under Cover’s early interventions. The homeless service system accrued just under $4 million worth of savings over a 6-year period as a result of Kids Under Cover’s initiatives.

So, if prevention saves lives and saves money, why is this superpower not being applied?

This is a question that plagues the 2019 NYC Report Card, released at the National Youth Homelessness Conference on March 18-19. It is a question that plagues Kids Under Cover, as we continue to fight the prevention battle on a daily basis.

Invest in prevention, and the numbers of young people who are homeless will reduce. Kids Under Cover has almost 30 years of experience showing that this form of intervention is effective. Now it is simply time to reveal this superpower for what it is.

Fiona Dickson, National Partnerships Manager, Kids Under Cover.

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