Posted: 24 March 2015

Preventing homelessness

Jan Sayer works with young people at risk of homelessness and their families to try and find a solution which will allow them to stay at home

My role as a Homelessness Prevention Project Worker at Checkpoint involves working with young people aged 16 to 18 and their families who are experiencing difficulties which can lead to the child being asked or forced to leave the family home.

There are many reasons why young people find themselves unable to return home. There may be a breakdown in communication between the teen and their parent due to unreasonable expectations, mental illness, substance abuse or their parent's new partner is unable to accept them. 

Getting people talking

Young people sometimes find it difficult to explain to their parents how they feel or what they are experiencing. I try to encourage them to write a letter explaining how they feel and with their permission, will either help read the letter to the parent, or support the young person to do it themselves. Often the parent has no idea that their child has been feeling this way.  Following this, I will ask the parent to write a letter from their perspective. This can be a powerful way to communicate when 'talking' has given way to 'shouting'.

Sometimes, for a parent to agree that their child can return home, I, together with the family, help to draw up a contract where negotiations between parent and child can take the place.

Unfortunately sometimes things have gone too far and both parent and child need a cooling off period before, and while, mediation can take place. When this happens we may be able to arrange, with the agreement of the family, a kinship placement with a member of the extended family, or with a family friend, even if it is just for a few days. This often gives both parties the opportunity to give 'time out' to allow heightened emotions to calm down so mediation can take place.

The good and the bad

The best thing about my role is seeing each family member gain a better understanding of each other's perspective and awareness of each other's needs. This avoids a total breakdown of their relationship, enabling the young person to return home, or remain within the family network wherever possible. It is really rewarding when both parent and child realise that there is still so much love there and they just needed someone to help them find a way of showing it.

It is difficult when it is not safe or appropriate for a young person to return home and alternative accommodation has to be found.  Sometimes, there are times when I wish we could have 'got in' sooner, especially when 'things have gone too far' and the family refuse to engage in any form of mediation.