Homeless Services Making a Difference for Children – Charlie’s Story

After many years of transience, Charlie and his mother began working with the Education Pathways Program at Launch Housing South Melbourne’s Homeless Children’s Specialist Support Service (HCSSS). At this time, Outreach Worker Michelle, discovered that he wasn’t attending primary school.

Charlie’s engagement in the program also revealed that he couldn’t write his name or read. This led to a referral to the Educational Assessments Program, a complementary program to the Education Pathways Program.

The educational assessment revealed that Charlie’s reading and writing was at a prep level and that he has a lower cognition.  An application for a teacher’s aide was prepared as a result of the lower IQ score and he started to receive one-on-one classroom support.

As Charlie further engaged in school, it became apparent that his lower IQ was a reflection of his traumatic history and that he was quite capable of higher order thinking now that he was in a stable environment.

For example, he demonstrated strategic skills on a football field, and made and maintained relationships with his peers, things that can be difficult for children who have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability.

Charlie was then assessed by the Speech Pathologist, who diagnosed him with a comprehension disorder, which requires a targeted intervention by a Speech Pathologist.

This assessment showed that severe childhood trauma and a lack of school attendance contributed to the majority of Charlie’s learning delays.

To meet his educational needs, the Speech Pathologist was engaged via the philanthropically funded Educational Assessments Program, providing six weeks of vital phonics training resulting in tremendous progress in his literacy.

The Educational Assessments Program is a philanthropically funded program, which works with children experiencing homelessness and/or family violence in Melbourne’s Southern Metropolitan region.

Charlie experienced early childhood trauma when his father died in unexpected and traumatic circumstances.

Charlie was raised in an unstable family environment and experienced long-term homelessness beginning in his early childhood.

This difficult start to life as well as a significant traumatic childhood event affected his emotional health and educational development.

Michelle spent three months building rapport and engaging with him. After finally gaining his trust, she began walking him to school every day to ensure he attended.

For the first few months at school, Charlie showed symptoms of childhood trauma and found it difficult to participate.

However, the program has since made a significant positive impact to his life and will leave a lasting impression as he journeys into adulthood.

Recognising that homelessness can have a negative impact on early learning, it’s important to ensure that children like Charlie can access vital assessments and intervention to improve chances of educational development and secondary school participation.

The Educational Assessments Program is part of five streams within the (HCSSS) offered at Launch Housing’s South Melbourne site. It provides educational assessments, including cognitive and achievement testing, to improve access to critical classroom support as well as counselling to address their trauma.

Recently, Launch Housing added a Speech Pathologist to the program after identifying the need to help children who have experienced lost learning time.

Launch Housing South Melbourne Coordinator Shannon says, “Being able to have access to timely educational assessments is invaluable. What we were finding is that when children move from school to school, testing was being missed.”

Research shows that experiencing homelessness as a child can have adverse effects on children’s physical health, emotional wellbeing and education.

The local primary school, a Launch Housing partner since 2015, is flexible in their approach to engaging with children who have experienced homelessness. For example, they allowed Charlie to shadow a teacher until he felt comfortable to join the regular classroom.

Overall, the Homeless Children Specialist Support Service has supported Charlie for three years and in this time he has improved immensely, making strong connections in the inclusive local primary school and supporting his transition into secondary school.

Charlie is one of the first children, part of both the Education Pathways Program and the Educational Assessments Program, to attend high school. This is a significant achievement considering everything he experienced in his early life.  He is now in the permanent care of his older half-sister who is ensuring that he continues with his individualised learning plan and attends school regularly.

Read our blog about Education Pathway Program helping children who have experienced homelessness re-engage with education.

 To learn more about children and homelessness read this research: 

  1. Launch Housing Research: What works for children experiencing homelessness and/or family/domestic violence? Part 1: Literature Synthesis
  2. Launch Housing Research: What works for children experiencing homelessness and/or family/domestic violence? Part 2: Resource Guide
  3. Children and Homelessness Literature Review 
  4.   Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days initiative