NATIONAL: Paid Parental Leave scheme to be extended to 6 months at full pay
The current Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated his intention to pursue an extension of the current Paid Parental Leave scheme, as promised in the lead up to the 2013 election.  Under the new policy, mothers would be eligible for full parental leave up to a period of 6 months, paid according to their actual wage. 
This scheme would therefore be consistent with WHO’s guidelines for exclusively breastfeeding and allow working mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children until they reach 6 months of age,  as well as the CRC’s recommendations in its Concluding Observations that the government ensure parents earn an adequate living while caring for a newborn to ensure a quality standard of living. 
Indeed, this reform would potentially ensure families are able to continue to earn an adequate living while caring for and breastfeeding newborn children and provide their children with a higher standard of living. However, a number of public policy experts have labelled the policy as ‘unfair’ due to the increased amount available for high wage earners.  The success of the scheme will depend on the ability of the government to implement these measures, as well as the capacity of non-working mothers to continue to provide for their children while their entitlements are capped at the minimum wage.
NATIONAL: Establishment of youth foyers in Australia
After the success of ‘youth foyer’ accommodation arrangements internationally, a number of organisations have secured funding from state governments to establish youth foyers in Australia.
The Hunter Foyer Project was established in 2013 by non-profit organisation Hunter Youth 2020 with the support of government and non-government organisations. The Hunter Foyer Project aims to help young, disadvantaged people aged 16-25 who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, to stabilise their lives and achieve the transition to independence.  The Project will make a ‘youth foyer’ in Newcastle, NSW available as an accommodation option for homeless young people, which will include between 40 and 60 rooms as well as common areas. The aim of the Foyer Project is not only to provide housing to young persons, but offer integrated support as well as education, training and job opportunities through partner organisations such as Hunter TAFE. 
In Victoria, studio apartments are being built on the campus of a Victorian TAFE to provide young people with accommodation in which they could complete their studies.  The TAFE Youth Foyers are the first of their kind in Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Hanover worked closely with the Victorian government to implement this new initiative. Hanover chief executive Tony Keenan has said that the project is “a major reform that puts learning and skills as the key pathway out of homelessness and disadvantage for young people. In exchange for secure accommodation, the young people agree to stay engaged in education.” 
The establishment and operation of youth foyers in Australia is a welcome option for young people seeking housing assistance after positive reports on the success of pilot programs  and financial sustainability. 
This strategy goes some way towards satisfying the CRC’s recommendation that specific frameworks and strategies be employed to address homelessness in children and young people. It is important for the government to continue to provide such facilities and expand their locations to make youth-focused accommodation available for homeless youth in rural and regional Australia.
ACT: Youth Emergency Accommodation Network launch
In April 2013, the ACT government launched the Youth Emergency Accommodation Network, which partners the Salvation Army with the Canberra Youth Residential Service to provide, “support and accommodation to young people experiencing crisis where all other accommodation options have been exhausted”. 
The Network will work in tandem with other service providers to support young persons and assist in transitions to independent study and work. The service is funded in partnership between the ACT and Federal governments under the National Affordable Housing Agreement. 
This Network is a positive development for maintaining an adequate standard of living for young people experiencing homelessness or an accommodation crisis, while also working to provide educational and training opportunities. It is important that the success of the Network is closely monitored and appropriate funding be provided.
NSW: New funding for homeless accommodation
The NSW government has announced $24 million in funding for the purchase of 50 houses for homeless women and young children escaping domestic violence. 
The funding will be directed to youth organisation Yfoundations as well as Domestic Violence NSW, who will purchase the houses.
Chief executive of Yfoundations, Michael Coffey, has said that the houses will be chosen according to the needs of young people in particular: “[they] might be shared accommodation situations like two-bedroom units or single bed-sits for young people who need space for themselves.” 
This funding is therefore appropriate in meeting the specific needs of young people who are facing homelessness.
VIC: New campus for homeless youth
In March 2013 the Victorian government also opened a new, $5 million campus which will provide affordable housing for up to 16 young people. Young people will be able to live on the site for up to 2 years while engaged in education or training or in order to support transitions to independent living. 
This is a positive development for young people in the area, particularly in that it encourages training and education to promote a transition to independence for the young people involved. However, there remains a chronic problem of youth homelessness both in the state and nationally. A campus providing housing for 16 youths can only resolve this problem for a small percentage of affected youths. More campuses like this needs to be invested in across the state in order to ensure quality standard of living and access to education for at-risk young persons.
Furthermore, despite welcoming the opening of the campus, Opposition mental health spokesperson Wade Noonen has stated that the government needs to commit more funds to mental health and community services in the area to service the needs of the young people in the campus facility. 
Developments requiring attention
NATIONAL: States implement Homelessness Action Plans
In response to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (“NPAH”) and the Federal government’s commitment to halve the rate of homelessness in Australia by 2020,  all Australian states have now implemented homelessness action plans. 
Initiatives such as the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan 2011-2015 aim to prioritise early intervention approaches to prevent homelessness, integrate services and provide innovative responses to problems faced by homeless people. The Plan also supports existing initiatives, such as Youth Foyers and Work and Learning Centres, specifically aimed at homeless young people. 
However, a recent audit by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office examining whether Victoria’s implementation of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan has been effective in addressing homelessness found that although Victoria has met NPAH targets, it can only demonstrate that two of the 24 initiatives within these plans had effectively contributed to reducing homelessness. This was put down to a lack of outcome measurement and very limited evaluation of two initiatives. 
The success of the state and national plans needs to continue to be effectively monitored and implemented in order to achieve its set targets. Furthermore, national government support and funding is vital to reducing homelessness and youth homelessness in Australia. However, although community service providers such as the Australian Council of Social Services (“ACOSS”) have called for renewed funding commitments from both major parties for at least a four year period,  there has not been any renewed response or commitment to the plan or its targets beyond June 2014. 
The government must also seek to adopt the recommendations of the CRC in improving all of its social services, such as education, income support and health systems, in order to address the underlying causes of youth homelessness. This includes the availability of support for lower income families in particular, which the CRC remains concerned “are not equitably available to all families in need.” 
NATIONAL: Continued funding of Reconnect Program
The Australian government has pledged to continue its funding of the Reconnect program, which has been shown to improve the lives of young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in recent research.  The former Labor government pledged $73million over three years in early 2013 to help young people break the cycle of homelessness.
However, while the government stated its intention to implement the recommendations of the evaluation,  many of the recommendations were flagged as having financial considerations  and appear to have not yet been fully adopted.
NSW: Review into homelessness funding
In 2012, a number of welfare groups in NSW made a written submission to the Minister for Community Services Pru Goward, calling for immediate funding to address a youth accommodation crisis in regional NSW.
As a result, Ms Goward announced a review into funding and distribution of funds for homelessness funding in the state to be completed by 2014. This will establish the geographical areas with the highest demand for crisis and homeless accommodation and distribute funds accordingly. 
While a review of funding in the sector in order to determine need is appropriate, the original submission which called for immediate funding to address a ‘crisis’ in emergency housing for young people in the Broken Hill area specifically has largely been overlooked as a result. The government has not directed funds to the area but rather will wait for the outcome of the review to be announced. Young people in Broken Hill who need emergency accommodation and assistance will therefore potentially not receive the help they need at present.
NATIONAL: New research into homelessness
The Australian government has invested over $11.4million between 2009-2013 to meet the priorities identified in the National Homelessness Research Agenda.  This has generated a significant amount of new research on the topic of homelessness, which has largely been conducted by government and non-government organisations receiving funded under the Agenda.
A number of new reports have been released in 2012 and 2013, many pertaining specifically to youth homelessness, including: Geographical Analysis of the Risk of Homelessness (2013); Assessing Youth Homelessness in Rural Australia: The case of the Clare Valley region in South Australia (2013); The Geelong Study: A Review of Victorian Education Initiatives Relating to Youth Homelessness (2012); Financial analysis of Foyer-like youth housing models (2013); and Homelessness and Leaving Care: The experiences of young adults in Qld and Vic and implications for practice (2013). 
The fact that the government has prioritised research into homelessness, its causes and the effectiveness of current initiatives is promising for future action in this field. It also goes some way towards addressing the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) to undertake a governmental review of efforts to reduce homelessness among children and young people. However, it is vital that the second part of the CRC’s recommendations, that the findings be used to guide the improvement and further development of a framework for addressing this issue be acted upon and implemented, in order to safeguard the standard of living all young people are entitled to under the Convention.
NSW: Going Home Staying Home Reform Plan
The ‘Going Home Staying Home Reform Plan’, in response to the 2012 Going Home Staying Home Report, is a NSW government plan which aims to reduce the numbers of persons needing to access housing services and also the numbers of persons being turned away from such services. 
The Plan will be in operation from July 2012 – July 2014 and aims to encourage stronger cooperation between housing and other support service providers.  Streamlining of services, better planning and resource coordination, industry and workforce development and increased focus on early intervention to prevent homelessness are also key focuses of the Plan. 
While this Plan is a positive development, it is similar to other homelessness initiatives in being adopted in a piecemeal fashion, for only a short period of time. Highly integrated support services are required in order to address the issue of youth homelessness, which will not be achieved through state-centric plans and limited time periods.
Indeed, the lack of integration between services is a continuing problem faced by housing providers. As found by Chris Town of Centacare, although the government’s strategy is to halve homelessness by 2020, this will require improved “flexibility between services”  in order to identify potential homeless people while they are accessing other services.
A report compiled in 2012 by the Geelong Project, Review of Victorian Education Initiatives Relating to Youth Homelessness, found that:
over the past 20 years, there have been several program initiatives to better coordinate youth services, but none managed to achieve a lasting impact. The seriousness of cross-sectoral collaboration at all levels in the Youth Partnerships program is promising, but its endurance and whether it can achieve lasting systemic reform is still uncertain. 
In order to adequately address youth homelessness, a holistic and child-centric approach must be adopted, which effectively coordinates all services and well as the needs of individual children and young people involved.
Areas lacking progress
NATIONAL: Absence of National Anti-Poverty Strategy
Despite the specific recommendation of the CRC and calls from various child rights groups, the government has failed to establish an anti-poverty strategy.
Poverty has a significant impact on the standard of living for children and young people and may affect their future outcomes. UNICEF Australia and the Australian Council for Social Services (“ACOSS”) have called for the Australian Parliament to make tackling child poverty a national priority and for the development of a comprehensive national poverty reduction plan. 
The most recent ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report shows that nearly 600,000 children in Australia are living in poverty, an increase of 15% since 2001. 
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie has said that, “reducing poverty must be a key plank of the nation’s efforts to improve participation and productivity, and secure a sustainable revenue base to meet the future needs of our country.” 
Other non-government organisations such as St Vincent de Paul have also called on the government to establish an anti-poverty strategy, based on revising current income support payments and providing greater training and employment services.  UNICEF Australia spokesperson, Tim O’Connor has said, “the only way to reverse this disturbing trend is for the new parliament to unify behind a renewed commitment to reduce child poverty.” 
The Australian Greens have also supported these calls, committing to a National Anti-Poverty Strategy, “founded on the principle that tackling poverty means addressing the range of underlying factors that contribute to it, such as housing affordability, access to education and employment opportunities and inadequate income support payments.” 
Despite support from these prominent non-government organisations, the current government has not made a commitment to such a scheme. It is necessary that the Australian government seek to act and prioritise child poverty initiatives in Australia while committing to the development of a holistic anti-poverty strategy, as urged by the CRC.
NATIONAL: Increasing numbers of homeless young people
Currently, more than 17% of homeless people in Australia are under the age of 12 years of age.  It is estimated that up to a quarter of all homeless people are youths, but that figure is difficult to specify, particularly in regional Australia as a result of the nature of many young people’s homelessness, where they ‘couch surf’ around family and friend’s accommodation. 
Of the 230,000 Australians who accessed a homeless service in 2011-2012, 99,228 of those were children or young people under the age of 24.  Of these, 43% were young people presenting alone without familial support. 
Jon Park, working with Yes Youth and Family Services, has explained that: “we often talk about that it’s homelessness not ‘rooflessness’ because it is more than just a roof and for young people, it’s about that sense of security, that sense of belonging and a place they can take risks and be nurtured in, so it’s much more than bricks and mortar.” 
As found by the Australian Human Rights Commission, “homelessness amongst children and young people is strongly linked to relationship and family breakdown, domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, anxiety or depression, unemployment and substance abuse… They are also at high risk of exploitation and further exposure to violence, and often have difficulty participating in school education.” 
It is vital that the Australian government seek to immediately redress this situation through improvement of its social services, as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) in its Concluding Observations. As also recommended by the CRC, the government should seek to establish a framework for addressing this issue specifically for young people and with regard to particular strategies for Aboriginal children, children from newly arrived communities, children leaving care and children in regional and remote locations.
NATIONAL: Lack of public housing and services for families, young people and Indigenous persons
In NSW alone, around 214,000 people are currently living in public housing. There are a further 55,000 eligible households (representing about 120,000 people) on the waiting list for public accommodation in the state.  It is currently estimated that all social housing only meets 44 per cent of need in New South Wales. 
Many recent reviews, including an audit by the NSW Auditor-General, have found that current public housing is ageing and increasingly not fit for purpose. It is not being built at the same rate as population growth but rather declining as a proportion of all houses. 
The Australian Council of Social Services has stated that there has been a 5% increase in the past year in the number of persons being turned away from housing agencies due to the inability of services to cope with demand.  St Vincent de Paul chief executive John Falzon has described the situation as “distressing”, stating that, “the human right to housing has been denied to people who are doing it tough,” and that, “in a prosperous country like Australia, the level of homelessness, the level of housing stress is unforgivable.” 
Families are the most likely group to be turned away from homeless services, with two out of three children who accompany a sole parent being turned away each day.  Homelessness Australia chief executive, Nicole Lawder, has stated that around 137,000 requests for housing help were not met during the most report period.  The CRC noted this trend in its Concluding Observations, stating it was, “deeply concerned at the extent of child and youth homelessness in the State party, with State-provided social accommodation facing severe capacity restraints.” 
Service providers such as Wesley Mission have noted that an increasing number of single parents and children are being forced to live on the street due to a lack of emergency housing.  This problem is expounded by the fact that a large part of emergency and welfare housing arrangements have less than two bedrooms. Chief executive Rev Keith Garner says that it is, “a sad fact that nationally, almost one third of homeless people who receive support are homeless families – and that number is expected to grow in the coming years,”  and in order to cope with this housing crisis, “[w]e need to find more places where families with two, three or four children can actually find some settled place.” 
In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kathari, found that Australia had ‘failed to implement its legal obligation to progressively realise the human right to adequate housing…particularly in view of its responsibilities as a rich and prosperous country.’ 
The failure of current services is particularly evident for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and young people. Although Aboriginal Australians only account for 2.5% of the total population, in 2011-2012 they accounted for 22% of all persons accessing specialist homelessness services. 
This is a problem compounded by the fact that in many cases, homelessness for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons is difficult to define, given the different cultural understandings of references to a ‘home.’ This is particularly the case where persons are living temporarily with family or highly mobile. Information regarding ‘usual residence’ of Aboriginal people in national censuses may ‘mask’ homelessness in many cases. 
One of the problems for Aboriginal families and young people seeking housing assistance is the limited number of available accommodations providing culturally appropriate housing. This may include placement in rural or isolated areas to promote connection with other family or clan members or additional bedrooms for multigenerational living arrangements. Spokespersons such as Bryan Haynes from the Alice Springs Youth Accommodation Service have said that the lack of affordable accommodation in remote areas such as central Australia is an ongoing problem for youth in particular. 
Homeless Australia spokesperson Jennifer Clarke has also stated that while the majority of homeless people are in Australian cities, increasing number of homeless people are being seen in remote areas: “it’s quite a big problem in very remote areas of Australia.” 
Providers such as Shelter SA have called for the establishment of an Aboriginal-led public housing agency, which would ensure that services are “culturally …an appropriate environment, that tenancies are managed with sensitivity to the need to accommodate family and meet those community and kinship obligations.”  Currently, Aboriginal housing services are all provided in a mainstream environment, which Dr Clark at Shelter SA says is the “biggest overarching issue” at present. 
One of the CRC’s primary recommendations was the provision of an improved framework with specific strategies to combat youth homelessness amongst Aboriginal children, children from newly arrived communities, those leaving care and those living in regional or remote areas. However, at this stage these recommendations remain unfulfilled.
NATIONAL: Single parent payments cut under the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012 and insufficient social assistance provided to low income families
While the government has conducted various reviews on homelessness initiatives and funding, the underlying causes of homelessness, particularly for families, have not been adequately addressed. Families and young people who are struggling financially should be supported by the government prior to becoming homelessness to improve outcomes and ensure an adequate standard of living for families, children and young people.
As a result of the passing of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012 (Cth), from 1 January 2013 single parents in Australia were no longer eligible for Parenting Payment when their youngest child turned eight, compared with 16 under the previous arrangement. This meant that up to 65,000 parents were placed on Newstart payments, receiving assistance cuts of up to $150 per week from their previous payments. 
In response, groups such as the Australian Council for Social Services have advocated for the changes to be repealed, arguing that the changes, “will have a devastating impact on single parent families and their children… These families are already struggling as they live below the poverty line.” 
The changes also drew the attention of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, who wrote to the Australian government in response to the changes. The Special Rapporteur indicatedthat the legislation was a potential breach of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 
As a result of these changes as well as general inadequacy of parental support payments in Australia, organisations such as Homelessness Australia have called for urgent action. Homelessness Australia has petitioned major political parties to increase family and youth allowance payments by $50 per week and Commonwealth Rent Assistance by at least 30% to help the most disadvantaged meet housing costs and avoid homelessness. 
The Australian Council of Social Service has also called for a new economic modelling system, which ensures that “Australia’s Family Tax Benefit system [is] fairer by better targeting payments to families that need support the most and simultaneously reducing poverty”.  CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie has stated that, “reductions to family payments and income support over the past decade,” has led to increased child poverty and a decreased standard of living for families. She found that, “there is virtually universal agreement that Newstart is too low for anyone to live on. Housing costs are also increasingly prohibitive.” 
In March 2013 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern that the total support package available to parents is not sufficient to satisfy:
- minimum essential levels of social security;
- the minimum requirements of the right to an adequate standard of living in Australia; and
- the right to non-discrimination. 
As recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”), the government must improve its social services, including income support, in order to strengthen its responsiveness to the needs of children and youth in particular at risk of homelessness. It is necessary that the government repeal the legislative changes to parenting payment which have disadvantaged already vulnerable single parent families and affected the standard of living for many young children .
NATIONAL: Disbandment of Select Council on Housing and Homelessness
The Federal government has axed the Select Council on Housing and Homelessness, causing alarm among community organisations and groups in the sector. 
Mission Australia described the decision as “alarming” and called for a new national partnership agreement on homelessness to be prioritised in order to avoid this major issue falling off the national agenda. 
This is a serious negative development which may adversely impact on children’s rights to an adequate standard of living. The government must seek to sufficiently fund this sector in order to protect children’s rights and prevent increasing numbers of children living without a home or proper standards of care.