Homelessness Pathways for Australian Single Mothers and Their Children: An Exploratory Study
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Ethics Approval
2.3. Participants and Procedure
2.4. Data Analysis
3.1. Entry of Mothers and Their Children into Homelessness
3.1.1. Factors Contributing to Homelessness Entry
“... my mum is being really aggressive and really on with me. And she has someone after her because of a big debt. And also because she said something about him. He is a really, really nasty fellow. And I don’t want to be around when that happens because I know the guy is getting out soon. ... So I left”[M7]
3.1.3. Challenges to Successfully Exiting Homelessness
- Making sure clients are ready for what the housing programs entail before entering them: “You rush them in. You are getting in ASAP. Our success rate with that hasn’t always been very high, because they are not really ready for it. They are just looking for housing, that roof over their head. But then to teach them how to maintain their home, pay their rent, pay the charges they have to pay within the service” [A2].
- Accessing appropriate services in a timely manner (e.g., psychologists): “... cognitive therapy stuff needs to be done but to get hold of that in a service like ours or other services is really challenging. The waiting lists are long, the accessibility is difficult for some young people, that kind of thing” [A2].
- Helping clients to readjust their goals to achieve the best outcomes for their families: “Because we do have a lot of young girls over the years who have brought in multiple partners and it is like, how is that affecting your children? ... it is about those conversations, ... ‘well, what do you think is best? What do you want to achieve for your family?’” [A2].
- Agency workers managing their own personalities and attitudes when working with young mothers to ensure a positive working relationship: “Our weaknesses are our personalities, or anything like that, that can clash with the young people” [A2].
- Helping clients to realise the costs associated with living in stable housing: “... when you bring them into a program where ... this portion of money has got to go to your housing, your food, your electricity, to maintenance and all that sort of thing ... they are like, ‘You are taking all my money.’ And it is just like, ‘No, these are normal living costs’” [A2].
- The challenges involved in placing homeless families in private rental properties. For example, when a client family agrees to private rental housing, agency staff become responsible for chasing that family for any rental arrears they may be co-contributing toward their rental payments: “... then this expectation that they have to look for private rental—putting that pressure on them. And you can negotiate with that but I think it is an additional stress that some families can’t cope with. ... So if they are doing co-contribution, it is my job to manage that they are paying rent. You get a lot of complaints from the accommodation provider saying that so-and-so hasn’t paid” [A3].
- A perceived lack of coordinated support within the sector: “I think it seems like there is a lack of support, coordinated support in the sector. There might be different programs working in silos as well, which makes it a bit tricky” [A4].
- Insufficient on-going government funding. One agency reported it would likely need to find philanthropic funding to offset government funding cuts in order to continue their service: “It is a bit precarious at the moment. I think we will really need to look at philanthropic funding than being reliant on the government, especially with a new [conservative] government who are cutting services. ... So that makes things a lot more difficult. We have just recently had one of our programs here lose over 50% of its funding” [A4].
- When young mothers enter the programs offered by the welfare agencies, they are moved from the high priority government housing list to low priority because they had transitional housing through the program. Once the two-year program is finished, however, they continue to be deemed as low priority by the government housing authorities, even though there is no long-term housing offered for young mothers exiting these programs. Consequently, as the mothers and their children exit the program, they are at high risk of re-entering the cycle of homelessness. This may partly explain why more than half the mothers interviewed had experienced seven or more periods of homelessness.“What would happen is around about 18 months in we would then start to look at what they would be moving to, what they would be entitled to. ... Because we are a homelessness service, the young people that come in to us ... are passed as high priority homeless, because we are a homelessness service, so they don’t have full housing, they’ve just got transitional. If we send them to [Department of Health], or Housing NSW, they say ‘No, you’ve got a place, you are not top priority.’ So it actually creates tension because they say, you’ve got housing, you don’t need to be on the [priority housing] list. ... [the clients] finish with us and then go back to live with mum or dad or someone who they then have a blow-up with and then end up back out again. And then they come back into that cycle again” [A2].“How do you break the cycle of homelessness when you have no exit housing, when you have nowhere to take these young people on to ... there is no exit housing for homelessness services” [A2].
- There are often very limited long-term housing options that are appropriate for young mothers exiting these programs: “In terms of housing it is not just about affordability but having safe housing is a big issue. For housing to be sustainable, it does have to be affordable but it needs to be within their community, it needs to be safe and have good amenities and facilities nearby. So that is another service constraint” [A4].
- Instances were noted whereby agency staff had found it difficult to both adhere to organisational processes and also provide personalised client support. These issues were further exacerbated when agencies had changes in management and consequent changes in procedures and processes to which both agency staff and clients needed to adapt: “... anytime a manager came on board there was always a difference around how that person managed things. That brings about change within the program” [A2].
3.2. Specialist Assistance that Mothers and Their Children Require to Meet Their Needs and Successfully Exit Homelessness
3.2.1. Personalised, One-On-One Support
3.2.2. In-House Support Programs
3.2.3. Partnerships with External Services
3.2.4. Individualised Supports for Each Family Member
- “But they don’t have a group where you could go and sit, like a playgroup. They don’t have somewhere where you can go with your kids and your kids can play and all the girls can talk. They don’t have anything.”
- “Is that something you would be interested in?”
- “That would be perfect. Playgroup is good for the kids and Mum’s group, talking to other mums—but mums who are in the same situation. I don’t want to go to playgroup and they say ‘so where have you come from?’ Because some mums might be like ‘we don’t want our kid going to her house, what if...she has nowhere to live and she is single.’”
“Child-specific [approaches are] more around trying to get them into childcare and making sure that their social and educational development is there ... a lot of the children are brought up with adults only, they are not used to having that social interaction. ... really recognising that a child needs social and emotional development as well.”[A2]
“Sometimes it is about tailoring the conversation about ‘well, how do you feel about putting your child into childcare maybe one or two mornings a week so that you get a bit of a break so that you can just relax, take a breather and do better at mothering’”[A1]
- “one of the mums [in shared housing] was a yelling mum and yelling at the kid all the time and that upset him and he wouldn’t go to sleep. So then I knew that it was time to go. And he was getting older too, he wanted his own room and that kind of stuff ... It was unsettling him and I thought ‘nope, I have had enough’ and it was a lot of work—especially for a single mum.”
- “So did you raise the conversation with X that you wanted your own property?”
- “No, they actually raised it with me. ... and then they said we want you out as soon as possible and it took like two weeks and I was in there straight away, which is a bonus. It is far away but it gives me time to socialise with my friends and family and have my own time in my own house with my son. He has his own room and stuff.”
3.2.5. Suggested Improvements to Service Provision
“The two year contract. At the end of the contracted time, some people—let’s face it—aren’t ready. ... So after the two years, they might try and live somewhere else but it is not working, or something has fallen through and they will make contact again. And they might not come back on a program exactly the same ... even if they fall through what we are offering, we still try and give them something”[A1]
3.2.6. Benefits of Being in Long-Term Housing
3.2.7. Supports to Maintain Long-Term Housing
“Well, the rental would be hard. Just me having a panic attack and forgetting every appointment for a week. Because if I have a panic disorder, I forget everything and can’t keep appointments or remember what I have to do. And I find it hard to even look in my diary and function. So these things I just need to keep on top of”[M7]
3.3. Service Delivery Considerations for Younger Mothers
3.3.1. Supports Required for Younger Mothers
- “So more basic things for the young mums?”
- “Very basic needs. ... they didn’t usually plan to get pregnant and they weren’t thinking about what would come after. So it is usually an education around that sort of thing and encouragement and provision of brokerage to help them get what they need and just talking through budgeting issues is one of the main ones. Because a lot of young mums see buying lots of stuff as being good mothering, so ‘I will spend $1000 on their birthday on Saturday and I have bought this and I have bought that and I have bought something else’ because that’s perhaps what they have missed out on. Perhaps that is what they see as good mothering but just showing them that the everyday stuff is really important. It is okay to spend $1000 on the birthday party but if your fridge is empty on Monday and there is no food, then what are you going to do?”
3.3.2. Improving Service Delivery to Younger Mothers
- “I don’t know how they prioritise and I don’t know how the system works and whether they actually do have homes available or they don’t. ... if they could offer a bit more guarantee of your situation, tell you the actual truth ... you see people crying there at the office and it is more that they are not telling you the truth ... ‘I can’t give you this, you have to go to this service.’ ... if they could just have one office where they say ‘go there ... you are homeless, okay, for two nights we can put you at a hotel and there is this house coming up, would you like it?’ I don’t know.”
- “Yeah, sure, so a bit of a one-stop-shop.”
- “Yeah, rather than going here, there and everywhere.”
- [M14 later]:
- “If there was more of a one way street to finding affordable housing where you can be told what your options are.”
- “So a bit more transparent?”
- “Yep, ‘this is available, do you want it or do you not want it?’”
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Interview Schedule for Mothers
- Let’s start off by talking about you and your children. Could you tell me how old you are? And how old were you when you gave birth to your first child?
- How many children have you given birth to? Are all of these children currently dependent on you (under your care)?
- How old your children?
- Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
- Thinking back now, did you experience homelessness before you were a mother? If so, how old were you?
- Since having a child/children, what has led to you leaving previous houses you have had and becoming homeless? (both for the first time and if more than once, for each subsequent time).
- How long have you been in your current homelessness state for?
- What support or assistance would have stopped you from becoming homeless (kept your house) in the first place?
- When you have previously lived in your own house, what has been good about it?
- How important is it to have a home? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to your children?
- What are some of the things that have made getting out of homelessness and back into housing difficult?
- What stage are you at now with finding permanent housing?
- How did you come to be involved with [insert partner organisation]?
- How did you meet them?
- Where were you living then?
- What else was happening in your life at that time?
- Had you been homeless for long at that point?
- How long have you been visiting [insert partner organisation]?
- What kind of support were you offered and what support did receive? (e.g., housing, health, employment, parenting guidance)
- What are the good things about the [insert partner organisation] service? Were there any services at [insert partner organisation] that were particularly valuable for you?
- What are the not-so-good things? Were there any services offered that you feel weren’t very valuable for your situation?
- If there anything they could improve on, or do faster that would have helped you to exit homelessness quicker?
- Is the approach of workers at [insert partner organisation] different to other services you have contact with?
- If so, in what way is it different?
- Thinking more broadly now, are/were there any services you can think of that you feel would have helped you to exit homelessness but they didn’t exist or they were too hard to access?
- If so, find probe for more information on the type of services, whether it exists and specific barriers.
- What things or assistance do you, or did you, use to get out of homelessness? Which were the most helpful?
- What would have assisted you, or would have needed to have changed, for you to have found housing faster?
- How is life different for you since you moved into permanent housing? (Explore whether they are happy with the place; how it’s impacted on their daily life routines, social issues etc.; how have the children responded).
- Have you had any difficulties since you moved in?
- If so, what were they and did they got sorted out? How did this happen?
- What particular aspects of the service helped you move to a more stable housing situation?
- Do you still have a relationship with your support workers at [insert partner organisation]?
- If so, what kinds of things are you doing together now?
- Are there supports or things you will need to assist you to stay in the house (specifics of support, length of time etc.)?
- Do you see yourself staying here long term?
- What are the unique issues for young mothers and their children that need to be taken into account?
- How could the homelessness services better cater for young mothers?
- Do you have any final comments or suggestions to help improve homelessness services?
Appendix B. Interview Schedule for Agency Staff
- Let’s start off by talking about your current position. How long have you been in your role?
- What does your role involve?
- What services does the organisation offer to those experiencing homelessness?
- Are all of these services offered to mothers and children? If not, which ones and why?
- Can you briefly describe how clients are engaged into the service? Is there a referral or assessment process?
- What do you think are the main strengths of the services you offer?
- What do you think are the main weaknesses?
- Have there been any service related challenges or barriers that the organisation has, or would like to, overcome?
- What kind of support services are offered to mothers and their children? (e.g., housing, health, employment, parenting guidance)
- What are the good things about the service? Are there any services that you feel are particularly valuable for mothers?
- What are the not-so-good things? Are there any services offered that you feel aren’t very valuable for mothers?
- Are there are aspects that the service could improve on, or make the processes faster, to help mothers exit out of homelessness quicker?
- To what extent currently do the services here address the needs of mothers and their children? (e.g., community participation, education/training, employment, mental and physical health, developmental delays).
- Are there needs that mothers and their children present with that the organisation cannot address internally and that require a referral off-site?
- Have partnerships with agencies or other service providers been established, and for what purpose?
- What would further strengthen these partnerships?
- Do the partnerships help to meet/support the different needs of mothers and their children (e.g., severe mental health issues or Department of Justice clients)?
- Are there any needs that mothers and their children present with that the organisation cannot address internally and where there is no known off-site service that can deal with the issue either?
- Has the organisation changed the types of services or support offered to mothers and their children over the time you have been here? (Prompt staff to expand briefly on any changes under relevant questions below).
- In your experience, how do mother’s needs change over time? (e.g., when they first present in crisis, after a few months of receiving support).
- Economic (e.g., employment).
- Physical and mental health.
- Psychosocial e.g., relationship with family, social connectedness, education.
- Thinking about young mothers, are there specific issues that they tend to present with? Are there certain service considerations you need to take into account when providing support to them?
- Have there been any unexpected outcomes of the support provided to mothers, whether they be positive or negative?
- If you could change anything about the service to make it more effective for mothers and their children, what would you change?
Appendix C. Background Information for the 14 Mothers
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|Mothers||N = 14|
|Mean age (range)||27.86 (17–46)|
|Mean age at which participant gave birth to first child (range)||21.29 (16–31)|
|Total younger mothers aged 16 to 25 (teenage mothers) [mothers 16–21]||8 (1) |
|Mean number of children (range)||1.79 (1–4)|
|Age range of children||3 months to 25 years|
|Number from culturally diverse background (%)||5 (36%)|
|Number with intermittent partner (%)||2 (14%)|
|Number who experienced homelessness prior to becoming a mother (%)||9 (64%)|
|Number of homelessness episodes experienced since becoming a mother|
|One to two||3 (21%)|
|Three to six||3 (21%)|
|Seven or more||8 (57%)|
|Type of accommodation reported at time of interview|
|Currently in crisis||1 (7%)|
|Transitional accommodation||4 (29%)|
|Long-term agency housing||3 (21%)|
|Long-term government housing||3 (21%)|
|Private rental||3 (21%)|
|New South Wales||6 (43%)|
|Agency Staff||N = 4|
|Number who are female (%)||4 (100%)|
|Mean duration of employment at welfare agency (range)||5.0 (0.7–12.0)|
|New South Wales||2 (50%)|
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Warburton, W.; Whittaker, E.; Papic, M. Homelessness Pathways for Australian Single Mothers and Their Children: An Exploratory Study. Societies 2018, 8, 16. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010016
Warburton W, Whittaker E, Papic M. Homelessness Pathways for Australian Single Mothers and Their Children: An Exploratory Study. Societies. 2018; 8(1):16. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010016Chicago/Turabian Style
Warburton, Wayne, Elizabeth Whittaker, and Marina Papic. 2018. "Homelessness Pathways for Australian Single Mothers and Their Children: An Exploratory Study" Societies 8, no. 1: 16. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8010016