The expansion into services for young people experiencing homelessness by Parkerville Children and Youth Care is seen as a natural extension of their work in out-of-home care.
Parkerville Children and Youth Care (Parkerville) has several programs designed to support young people who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.
These modern services are part of the evolution of an organisation that has provided a safety and security net for children and young people for almost 120 years.
When Parkerville was established in 1903, children and young people often became homeless if their parents fell ill or were otherwise unable to care for them – there weren’t second or third generation family members to look after the children. Parkerville would step in and may still be best remembered by some readers for the Parkerville Children’s Home which once operated as an orphanage at the corner of Roland and Beacon Roads in Perth’s Hills.
Today those premises are still nestled in a beautiful bush setting, but are used for a range of purposes including Parkerville’s Education and Employment and Training program – transforming the lives of children at risk of dropping out of, or failing, high school.
Just as Parkerville has evolved over the decades, so too have the most common causes of youth homelessness. Today, it might be the breakdown of the family unit, domestic violence, substance abuse, or issues with sexuality and gender identity, poverty and unemployment.
In response, Parkerville works closely with the Department of Communities and has expanded its services to meet the needs of young people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness. Chief Executive Officer Kim Brooklyn has been leading further expansion into the area of youth homelessness, backed by a talented and committed interdisciplinary team.
“The drivers are always the same,” explains Kim. “Achieving the best possible outcomes for children and young people, whatever that may look like, by providing the therapeutic and other support they need to recover, rebuild and thrive – in a safe, secure environment.”
Parkerville’s Out of Home Care services – the Armadale Youth Accommodation Service, Belmont Youth Program and the Young Women’s Program – are all about providing supportive places for children and young people to live – places where they feel valued, safe and secure; where the people who surround them are passionate about their wellbeing and genuinely care about their future.
“The drivers are always the same.”
They offer therapeutic services and specialist support, outside of home, to help children and young people reach their fullest potential by, for example, reconnecting with education or new training, undertaking trauma counselling, or commencing life skills training.
The ultimate goal is to reunite children and young people with their families, so they can either return to live with them or simply enjoy meaningful family connections, which research shows, can help them thrive into the future.
Kim knows the services are doing “a great job” – but the complex needs of children and young people, and the complex family environments from which they come, demand even more. The successes of Parkerville’s outreach services are particularly encouraging. “We want to invest more in the family system and give children every opportunity to be a part of that and to return to that, when it is safe to do so and in their best interests,” Kim says.
“We know the best outcome for any young person is to be at home in culture with family. They have a better chance of having a life they want to live. The first point of call is trying to work with mum and dad – not simply putting a person in a refuge. We need to keep thinking about the different ways in which we can support children and families.”
The Parkerville Youth Outreach Services – Reconnect and Moving On Moving Out – live up to their names. They provide young people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness the support they need to reconnect or regain relationship with family, to gain secure housing, and to achieve independence.
“The best outcome for any young person is to be at home in culture with family.”
“The young people who engage with these services work with us to claim their identity and purpose, and ultimately create a better future for themselves and us all,” explains Kim.
Moving On Moving Out is a safety net designed to help young people, aged 15 to 21 years, who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness or residing in crisis or temporary accommodation. Like all Parkerville’s work, they are practical and centred around each individual, recognising and embracing their individual needs.
Reconnect tries to identify children at an earlier stage – to prevent young people from becoming homeless and encourage them to stay connected with family and the community.
Parkerville is examining existing best practice “family reunification models” interstate and Reconnect is a step towards future expansion in this area. Run on a case management system, workers walk alongside young people and their families. The aim is to stop anyone aged 12 to 18 years from becoming homeless. It’s free, voluntary, and confidential – helping a young person’s relationships with family and of friends by providing support, information, counselling and mediation.
“We spend a lot of time explaining the options,” Kim says. “Not just with Reconnect but with all our programs. It is not that people don’t want life to be different, they just don’t know how it can be different. In showing them how, we give them hope. Where there is a sliver of hope, we always expand on that, building connections and contact with family wherever we can.
“Families can be hard. And there is no pressure on families with whom we work to be some kind of ‘perfect unit’,” Kim explains.
“It is about being the best sort of family you can be. If they can go home and resolve the issues that created barriers between parents and children, then it’s a win-win for everybody.
“I like the opportunities and options Reconnect provides people. It’s not about fitting a young person into a rigid box. If you are in a highly stressful situation, your idea of options becomes narrow and sometimes the work we do with young people and their families is to expand what’s available and what is possible for them.”
Lock & Load
There isn’t much Parkerville hasn’t seen when it comes to young people and family dynamics. Family estrangements occur frequently, across all cultures for a multitude of complex reasons. Alcohol or other drugs issues, issues around sexuality and sexual identity, intergenerational trauma or mental health can all play a role.
“There are parents who are doing the very best that they can but haven’t learned how to shift their parenting style for different developmental stages,” Kim says. “That creates a significant tension in the family system and then people lock and load into their corners, and sometimes it is very difficult to stop that pattern.
“Our teams can intervene, to disrupt that pattern and help teach different skills and abilities to increase opportunities for better connection. All the research says ‘get in fast, get in quick’. By providing all the supports that make sense to that family as fast as you can – by investing in that front end – you can circumnavigate some of the damaging issues that might otherwise arise.”
“There is simply not enough.”
A shortage of social housing in Perth and the regions creates “huge challenges” for Kim and her team at Parkerville. “There is simply not enough,” she says. “While we might do some great work here, when you run out of housing options and there aren’t immediate accommodation solutions, it creates challenges.”
Making a Difference
Whether she’s being coy or prudent in not elaborating on some of the things she saw in her past life as a Mental Health Nurse, it’s clear Kim has been heavily influenced by them. But she grew up in a family where ‘put up or shut up’ was a bit of a mantra, and she’s not the kind of woman to be a sideline critic. So Kim now has a Masters of Psychology, and her clear vision for Parkerville is to run a service that matters; that makes a difference.
Kim has brought to her role at Parkerville, her clinical experience with the former Department of Child Protection and for Indigenous Psychological Services – her time ‘working out of a ute’ all around Australia, with Indigenous communities, both clinically and in development.
Parkerville is now much more than a child protection or out of home care service. Programs like Reconnect and Moving On Moving Out are quiet achievers – not always visible in the community, but definitely achieving results. “In some ways it’s good to be under the radar,” Kim says. “We are delivering on our promises and on our contracts but there is no razzamatazz around it because our purpose is to help young people blend into the community, in a sense.
“On the other hand, that can mean some of the amazing things our team achieves and the exceptional work being done don’t always receive the recognition they should,” she said. “That’s something we’ll work on too.”
Kim is proud of all the work done by her team right across the organisation – and it’s the Education, Employment and Training Program (EET) which brings her to tears, in the very best of ways.
“Twice a year, we welcome high school students who have really struggled with the schooling system. They come to us with that negative reputation – and our first step is to ignore it. Our starting point is to look at how awesome they are.”
The program is renowned for its success as an effective early intervention, receiving referrals from the Department of Justice and the Department of Communities. It has a 98 per cent success rate with students moving into jobs, vocational training or further study depending on their age. In some cases, multiple members from the same family complete the course.
“I cry because the young people are amazing.”
Kim and her team know EET changes the lives of the young men and women who participate, including those who might have found themselves out of work, aimless and sleeping rough. Instead, young people leave the program with much more than qualifications – they leave with life-skills, confidence, self-esteem and a sense of direction. Many maintain their contact with Parkerville and become mentors.
“I go to graduations, and I cry every time,” says Kim. “I cry because the young people are amazing.
“I see parents who, for years and years and years, have heard nothing but bad things about their child and they hear – for the first time – how amazing their child is. The children and young people we serve at Parkerville are amazing. They cope with things no adult could cope with in the same way. They are our superstars and superheroes.”