Do children experience homelessness?

When picturing the social inequality of homelessness within our community, many people forget that children are a part of this picture. Homelessness for children is somewhat hidden, whether it’s in inappropriate dwellings, overcrowding, motels, emergency accommodations. However it is, unfortunately, still affecting many children within our communities. Data from the 2016 census tells us that children make up over 1 in 4 people experiencing homelessness, which was an alarming 26,918 children in Victoria over the 2018-2019 period.

How does homelessness affect children?

As you can imagine, homelessness for a child can be an overwhelming experience and can have major impacts on their life. In many situations, children experiencing homelessness may have to leave their home, belongings and communities, and often rather quickly. It can occur without choice, control or understanding of what is happening and what is going to happen next. A child’s world and sense of predictability can be significantly challenged by this uncertainity. Parents and caregivers are also facing this experience of not knowing what may happen or where they will have to go.

The impact for children who have experienced homelessness can look like:

  • Fragmented social support systems.
  • Disconnection from community, friends, family and other important people in their life.
  • Reduced capacity to access and attend school, and engage with their education.
  • Losing their belongings and/or may not have access to their favourite toys, clothes or important items.
  • Challenges with emotional regulation. This may include processing or understanding the emotions they are experiencing, not only during the crisis of experiencing homelessness, but even ongoing once they have found refuge in a new safe, secure home.

How do we support children who have experienced homelessness?

Although it can feel challenging to know how to support children who have experienced homelessness, there are things we can do to help these children feel safe. Let’s explore ways to aid in reconnecting children to themselves, their family and community.

Knowing and attempting to understand what our children are experiencing is an important step in reconnecting. One framework that can be used for this purpose is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This theory identifies that when our physiological needs, including air, water and shelter are not met, then our capacity to focus on higher order needs is hindered. This means that important and necessary areas such as education, relationships and figuring out who ‘we’ are, take a backseat during this affected time of their childhood development. Therefore, it’s important to have compassion when supporting children who have experienced homelessness. We need to service their foundational basics to both provide safety and then proceed to enable feelings of safety in the world, restoring up through Maslow’s needs towards the more complex needs of love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. Next, we will explore a few tangible ideas to assist in this process.

Effective ways we can support children who have experienced homelessness

  • Being predictable – Children who have experienced homelessness can become used to things changing quickly, with the child having little control over the situation. Being predictable allows children the ability to feel safe within their new environments. This could be as simple as letting them know the new routine of the way to school or what the family is going to have for dinner that night. Having predictability tells the brain that we are safe as we know what may happen next.
  • Involving children in choice – Allowing children choice and control when they may have not had this in the past is a great way to rebuild safety in their environment. This could be with choices such as ‘you get to choose what you would like for breakfast’ or ‘what game would you like us to play as a family?’. Encouraging children to build on their positive social engagement skills and experiences.
  • Providing something child friendly into their space – If a child has to leave their home quickly and lost some of their most important belongings, providing the child with something special that is theirs, and only theirs, can be a positive way to help with the loss. This could look like if a child had an old teddy bear that they had to leave behind, potentially providing the child with a new teddy bear to help reflect on the loss of the old toy and restore a sense of normality. This could also look like setting up a child friendly space in a motel or crisis accommodation. Allowing the child to feel like they have there own ‘kids’ space just for them.
  • Assisting with Regulation – As a trusted adult in the child’s life you could use your own skills in emotional regulation to co-regulate the child. This could look like modelling regulation of your own body through breath, movement or using sensory Toys. Remembering that long slow exhales help to destress and calm the body and mind (Gerritsen & Band, 2018). This can be done at a cadence of 4 seconds into the belly and 8 seconds of long slow exhaling
  • Connecting with support in the education and the community – If the child has moved to a new area, reengaging in a new school, kinder or childcare is a great way to allow the child to feel safe and supported in their new community.


  • Maher, B. (2020). Ending homelessness for Victoria’s children and their families. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  • McLeod, S. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply psychology1(1-18).
  • Barker, J., Kolar, V., Mallett, S., & McArthur, M. (2013). What works for children experiencing homelessness and/or family/domestic violence?.
  • Gerritsen, R. J., & Band, G. P. (2018). Breath of life: the respiratory vagal stimulation model of contemplative activity. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 397.
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