Homeless fathers suffer when cut off from children
New Government-funded research has found a need to provide better support for fathers who are homeless so they can remain part of their children’s lives.
Releasing the study on Father’s Day, Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor said the findings highlighted the impact on already vulnerable men of losing contact with their children.
More than just me: Supporting fathers who are homeless was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Child Protection Studies in the Australian Catholic University and two Melbourne-based welfare organisations, Hanover Welfare Services and Melbourne Citymission.
They used interviews and focus groups with homeless single fathers in Melbourne and Canberra, along with a survey of specialist homelessness services, to explore how services support single fathers.
The report identifies how becoming homeless affects fathers’ relationships with their children, and how the fathering role itself affects their lives and their experience of homelessness.
“It’s no surprise that this research found contact with their children was at the core of fathers’ emotional and psychological wellbeing,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Dads who lose contact with their children often turn to self-destructive behaviour and substance abuse, hopelessness, withdrawal, depression and eventually chronic homelessness.
“Without a safe and secure home, fathers struggle to share custody or have access visits, which is not good for them or their children.”
The study looked at how homelessness services support single fathers, and how they could be better supported.
It identified the need to improve access to accommodation that is safe and suitable for single fathers who are homeless and have children in their care.
There is also a need for services to provide somewhere safe and appropriate where homeless fathers can meet with their visiting children.
The study also found that fathers with multiple complex issues frequently do not use support services because they have had previous negative experiences, feel ashamed or overwhelmed and there is insufficient information about the services.
Services which have the potential to be important resources for homeless fathers are not being used, such as specialised assistance to develop skills to negotiate satisfactory contact arrangement, particularly in situations of high conflict or even violence.
It highlighted the need for stronger links between homelessness services and support services such as drug and alcohol services and the Family Law Service, and the need to ensure parenting support programs were not only targeted at single mothers.
Mr O’Connor said the research provided valuable insight into a largely unknown client group.
“We know that tackling homelessness is a complex challenge and this research is vital to how we target resources into the future,” Mr O’Connor said.
“In a wealthy country like Australia, it is unacceptable that tens of thousands of Australians are homeless on any given night. The Gillard Government is committed to our ambitious goals of halving homelessness and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.
“This study is one of a series of research projects which will help us measure our progress towards our goals.
“The Government is funding the National Homelessness Research Agenda so that we know what works, what doesn’t and where the gaps are so that we can break the cycle of homelessness.
“This research is filling an important gap in research and will help with policy and service delivery around supporting homeless fathers and their families.”