Supporting children towards a stable future
Catherine Phiri, The Salvation Army's new Queensland-based Children's Specialist Worker
This National Homelessness Week, The Salvation Army’s Aaron Pimlott and Catherine Phiri discuss the newly created role of ‘Children’s Specialist Worker’ – designed to support and stabilise the lives of children facing homelessness.
Children in families struggling with, or at risk of homelessness, often face a raft of challenges such as interrupted schooling, community disconnection, trauma from family and domestic violence incidents, emotional, physical and developmental challenges, physical danger, low self-esteem and more.
As the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, The Salvation Army offers a wide range of services, case management and referrals – to help stabilise, accommodate, and empower families facing homelessness.
To complement existing programs, a new position titled ‘Children’s Specialist Worker’ was recently created – to add another layer of case management and support for those aged below 18 years in families connected to The Salvation Army’s Supported Accommodation Program.
(The Supported Accommodation Program offers parental and carer case management, referral, crisis accommodation and transitional housing. Working towards the goal of securing long-term housing, the team also continues working with the family as needed, after they transition out of the program.)
The new Children’s Specialist Worker role, plus additional resources that allow children to access health and specialist services, are fully funded by The Salvation Army. The position is currently being piloted and evaluated, with an intention to expand into the future.
In addition to case management, the Children’s Specialist Worker will also work in education and advocacy around the issue of children and homelessness.
Aaron Pimlott, Manager – Homelessness at The Salvation Army in Queensland
Aaron Pimlott, Manager – Homelessness at The Salvation Army in Queensland says the new role has been created to promote and improve health and well-being outcomes for children in families connected with The Salvation Army’s Supported Accommodation Program.
“The new position provides further support to existing caseworkers who are working with families, providing additional case management support and planning for the children,” he says. “We believe this can and will potentially change the trajectory of a child’s life as they move forward, so they won’t fall into the same cycle of homelessness, but find stability and opportunity for a better future.”
Catherine Phiri, who has worked as a team leader with The Salvation Army’s Mission Team Accommodation and Homelessness Services in Queensland, recently moved into the ‘Children’s Specialist Worker’ role.
She says that children under the age of 18 make up between one quarter and one-third of those experiencing homelessness in Australia. “Statistics say that children who experience homelessness are very prone to infections such as ear infections, developmental delays, nutritional deficiencies, asthma, infectious illness, dental problems, anxiety and depression and behavioural issues,” she adds.
“Childhood is an important time for health and development, including developing language and establishing the foundations for wellbeing.”
Catherine says that school attendance usually suffers when families are forced to move into insecure, overcrowded or temporary accommodation, or at worst, onto the streets. Therefore, working with schools, families and children to build security and regularity of attendance is a priority.
Additionally, there are several other challenges in the way, including the fact that some children move so many times that they stop trying to make new friendships, while others cannot have friends over as they live in overcrowded conditions. Some have family members struggling with addiction or substance misuse and may not know if they will be taken to school, picked up, have a meal or a clean uniform.
However, Catherine says, with case management and support for parents/carers and children, there are positive and potentially life-changing outcomes.
“In this role, I can now pay attention even more to the children, give them a voice, help them into stable schooling, connecting to [the] community, and back into support networks. They are the future generation, who may be the prime ministers, the CEOs of tomorrow.”
Faith for the future
For Catherine, along with best training and procedures, she says her Christian faith strengthens her role.
“I believe God loves families. First and foremost, people are made in the image of God and God loves them and God has given them choices,” she says.
“I’ve heard stories of people saying, ‘I didn’t have much of a life at home, but there was one teacher who believed in me and that changed everything’. I pray that I can be that kind of caseworker, who makes that kind of difference in young lives.”