Unaccompanied children in Tasmania were using more drugs, were completely disengaged from school and lost all face-to-face support services during the initial Covid-19 pandemic, a new report reveals.
The abandonment of these children by government services is revealed in Anglicare and the Social Action and Research Centre's new report The impact of COVID-19 on unaccompanied homeless children in Tasmania.
The report is based on interviews with 24 Tasmanian front-line workers and highlights current gaps in the state's ability to respond to the special needs of such children under 16 who are homeless and sleeping rough or couch-surfing.
"From the perspective of workers the most striking impact of Covid-19 in the lives of unaccompanied homeless children was the withdrawal of what they perceived to be essential face-to-face government and community-based support services in March - June 2020," the report stated.
Further, the report said that "workers communicated children's developing sense of nihilism and doom" which resulted in drug-use and high risk behaviour.
Mental health deterioration
Also, that children could not engage in online-schooling during that period because of a lack of computer or internet access, no guardian to help or enforce the schooling, and a lack of individually tailored learning packs for each child.
One worker said many of the children had gone downhill mentally.
"I know that I've had to set up some mental health appointments for kids, which has again been really challenging trying to do that," they said.
"I've clients text me saying, 'Oh my God, everything's so sh*t. I feel like I'm going to hurt myself again'...
"And their behaviour I've noticed got much worse and [they started] to get in trouble with the police again, I guess because there's no routine for them, no supports."
Children felt abandoned
Anglicare CEO Dr Chris Jones said the information was gathered to better prepare for, and protect vulnerable children, in future health emergency events.
Report author Catherine Robinson said the failure by government to label the interviewed workers as essential during the pandemic brought huge concern.
"Workers said children felt abandoned during the emergency period and this has affected the speed and quality of their re-engagement with services," said Dr Robinson.
"Children believe school and community services weren't there for them when they most needed it...Workers described what these children need: 'love, care, safety ... to feel like they actually have people in their corner'.
"Government can help make this happen by taking a public health approach to ending unaccompanied child homelessness in our state."