Fund amount:
$250,000 over three years

Program area:
Educational Equity

Location:
Statewide

Year:
2020

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Education steps up when home is not an option

“I’m proud. I’m a learner now. I can write words I couldn’t, and I try hard now. I am a great runner and I’m good at climbing trees. And I’m kind. Yeah, I think I am kind.” Finn, 8 years old.

It would be hard to find a better way to spell out the value of a program for school children experiencing homelessness.

The Ross Trust is putting its support behind an award-winning program to support school children who don’t have a home, to help them stay connected with education and services.

Launch Housing’s mission is to end homelessness. It is Victoria’s strongest advocate for affordable housing, and a leader of research into homelessness. Its Education Pathways Program (EPP) is all about helping families and students experiencing homelessness and family violence, remain in education.

Homelessness or an unstable home life is a significant risk factor in disengagement from education and in turn leads to poor socio economic and other outcomes throughout life.

The EPP is one of the first programs to address the impact of homelessness on children’s education, giving it a strong alignment with the Ross Trust’s educational equity funding priority.

So far, in southern metropolitan Melbourne, the program is producing excellent results, with an increase in both enrolments and attendance for homeless primary school students. An evaluation report produced evidence that the program resulted in ‘tangible and effective outcomes for primary school-aged children up to 12 years of age experiencing homelessness’.

One of the effective parts of the program was taking the responsibility for enrolling the students and helping them get to school each day, reducing stress for parents, particularly if they are already away from home due to family violence or financial hardship.

The EPP is delivered by a multidisciplinary team that includes social workers, a psychologist, volunteers, and a speech pathologist. They work in partnership with the schools and teachers. They undertake assertive outreach (meeting people in their own environment), short-term school enrolment, a walking school bus and provide breakfasts and lunches. Targeted educational assessments, speech pathology, and transition support to new schools, is also part of the program once more stable accommodation is secured.

Members of the EPP team gave us their take on the value of the program.

EPP Coordinator, Shannon Richardson, said the most rewarding part of the EPP is to be able to design a program that specifically addresses a significant sector service gap.

“The program is flexible, responsive and tailors an individualised support plan for each child who enters the program. The program stays with the child for as long as they need to and will travel with the child throughout their homelessness journey. This is something that is rarely heard of within the social services sector. We are incredible proud to deliver this award-winning program that supports one of society’s most vulnerable and largest growing cohort – homeless children.”

Shannon’s colleague and EPP worker, Rose Pa’apa’pa , agreed saying “One of the best parts of the program for me is seeing students who had previously been labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘trouble’ children, having the appropriate speech/psychological assessments and accessing necessary support so that they can learn at the right level for them. The difference that this makes for kids attitude towards school and their mental health is really noticeable and follows on to their transitions between schools or up into high school.”

With 14 sites across Victoria, Launch Housing provides high quality housing, support, education, employment and other specialist services to thousands of people.

The Ross Trust has supported Launch Housing (and its predecessors HomeGround Services and Hanover) since 1976, mainly for the purposes of emergency relief and material aid, providing grants totalling $1.2 million.


Top up grant responds to COVID-19

The Ross Trust recently increased its contribution to the Education Pathways Program, with an additional $25,000 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds will go directly into practical technology support to allow students in the EPP, who are experiencing homelessness and therefore don’t have access to crucial technology and a stable internet connection.

Launch Housing is overcoming this structural barrier to education by purchasing laptops, iPads and an internet connection for students in the program. The Ross Trust funds will pay for access for 30 students for the next six months.

Shannon said the extra $25,000 has meant that the EPP can continue its important work throughout the pandemic. “The EPP is the only program in Melbourne that provides assertive outreach in order to identify children who experience homelessness and help them to meaningfully re-engage back into education and access specialised support services, which are normally out of their reach. We could simply not have been as effective in connecting children back into school (during COVID-19) without this generous assistance.

“By being able to provide laptops, iPads and internet connection, we have been able to link children to their online classroom and provide speech therapy and telehealth counselling sessions. Out of the 51 children in Launch Housing’s children’s team who received IT and internet, only 11 were offered internet or IT from their schools.

“Next week, we will start a zoom music therapy playgroup for children and their parents under the age of 5 and an art group for primary school age children.

“All of this would not be possible without having access to IT and internet, and these already vulnerable and disadvantaged children would fall further behind their peers and potentially further into social disadvantage and isolation,” Shannon said.

Her comments were echoed by an 8-year-old girl, who received a laptop, and her brother an iPad, with this additional funding: “Hi, it is me Jessica. How are you? We missed you so much and we’re so happy that the laptop and iPad have arrived and thank you very, very much. You helped us with many stuff – thank you so much. I will see you when the world is better.”

EPP Worker, Juliana Tardochi, summed up by saying being able to support families and children to connect, not just in education but with other aspects that comes with it, like routine, social networks, fun and laughter with peers, and positive influences with teachers is extremely rewarding.