Rebecca McNicol began her social work career supporting our smallest and most vulnerable.

Not long out of university, the then-22-year-old was working in out-of-home care, nurturing young children separated from their families by the child protection system.

Stints in regional family preservation and targeted intervention followed, with a focus on providing critical in-home supports where early child wellbeing or safety risk factors had been identified.

Now a member of Centacare’s Youth and Community Support Services, Rebecca is drawing on these early experiences to support young people and adults at risk later in life.

Many are caught in generational cycles of unresolved crisis which has put them on a multi-directional path to homelessness.

“Trauma manifests in different ways,’’ Rebecca says. “Sometimes the effects of this go unnoticed but then issues come up later in life, and homelessness is usually one of them.’’

Working across Centacare’s Whyalla Generic Homelessness Service (WGHS) and Whyalla Regional Domestic Violence Service (WRDVS), Rebecca sees the full gamut of challenges facing clients aged as young as 15 and up to those in their 60s.

The cumulative effect of years of immense sadness is obvious.

“Perhaps they were removed from mum and dad, placed in Guardianship, but then they get to 18 and they’re out in the big wide world,’’ Rebecca says.

“We see them quite a few years later with pretty significant mental health and drug and alcohol issues, and their housing is one of the things that falls by the wayside.’’

Collectively, the WGHS and WRDVS worked with 543 people In 2019/2020.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia, and women fleeing unsafe households account for the majority of clients who access specialist supports.

In Whyalla, factors which precipitate homelessness are compounded by limited public transport, Rebecca says, which makes it difficult for many people to access the supports they need. To overcome this barrier, Centacare provides transport assistance to clients.

“No day is the same,’’ Rebecca says. “Sometimes it is really, really difficult, particularly with the domestic violence, and then the people who have just had a challenging hand in life.

“Obviously things can creep up and shock you more than other cases but, for the most part, taking an empathetic approach and perhaps offering an apology – saying sorry that they are upset – that’s huge for some clients.

“At the end of the day being able to offer someone a house so they feel safe and have a roof over their head, that’s a pretty awesome feeling.’’

Rebecca attributes her strong sense of social justice, and her drive to help others less fortunate, to her family’s caring influence.

“My dad worked in the public service with young offenders in maximum security detention centres. He was a youth worker and is now a minister. We travelled all over Australia for Dad’s work which brought about a richness to our life in seeing different things.

“My oldest sister is a social worker, and my other two sisters are in the health field, so we are definitely a family of helpers!’’

*It’s Homelessness Week (August 2-8), a national campaign to raise awareness of the experiences and challenges faced by people living homeless. This year the theme is Everybody Needs a Home. Even before COVID-19, almost 120,000 people had no place to call home each night. Today, many more Australians are currently unemployed, facing rental stress and the possibility of losing their home.

A fading photocopied poem is surrounded by scores of baby photos on the pinboard at Hannah Place.

The words about what makes a mum special speak loudly to Social Worker Fatima Krivdic.

The poem, she says, is a reminder of what most of us have but what others go without – sometimes for their whole lives.

The love a mother shares, the many little thoughtful things that show how much she cares…

When you’re little she protects you, she tucks you in at night, and when she knows you’re ready she steps aside, but still she watches over you with tender loving pride.

“Our clients didn’t have this and we endeavour to work alongside them to provide this for their children,’’ Fatima says.

“We will always go the extra mile to support them, even if we don’t always support the choices they make.’’

Fatima is a founding staff member of Hannah Place where young women under the Guardianship of the Minister who are pregnant and parenting, and require support to bond with and care for their baby, can stay until the age of 18.

Most clients have spent their formative years in and out of foster homes or residential care facilities due to unresolved family crisis, childhood trauma and other complexities such as mental health, sexual violence, and drug use.

Located at Pooraka, Hannah Place opened eight years ago. In 2018/2019, the service has supported 48 young women and their children.

“It’s somewhere they can call home for the first time ever in their life,’’ Fatima says.

“What we love about this place is that we can hug them, we can laugh and cry and get angry with them, and we do – we do all those things.’’

Under a case management framework, clients are supported to develop their parenting capacity and mother/child attachment and, if their child has been removed from their care, to work towards reunification.

“Developmentally the mum might be seven but chronologically she’s 15, so essentially she’s a child trying to parent without a positive template of her own,’’ Fatima says.

“The mother loves the baby but love, sadly, is not enough to raise a child.’’

Outreach support is offered to clients until they are aged 19 but the door at Hannah Place is always open.

“All of them at some point will call just to say hello or to share an achievement with us, or they will come back here if they’re hungry or need somewhere to go, because trust is a huge thing,’’ Fatima says.

On Sunday, staff will host a Mother’s Day lunch for the six women and four children currently living at Hannah Place.

“It will be a big day for sure, not just looking forwards but looking backwards, because 99 per cent of them don’t have any supportive figures in their life, let alone a mother,’’ says Ellen Massie, Youth Support Worker.

“They love to be recognised and acknowledged for the work that they are doing.

“Sometimes they don’t believe us because they’ve never heard that in the past.

“So we praise them every day and look for the positives, not just on Mother’s Day.’’

Fatima Krivdic, left, and Ellen Massie.

Nicole Carlaw never gives up.

A Case Manager and Intake Worker with Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS), Nicole will exhaust every option in a bid to find solutions for the challenges young people face.

But sometimes even that is not enough.

“We can’t see it as a failure if we can’t break the cycle, especially if the challenges are transgenerational and embedded,’’ Nicole says.

It’s Monday morning, and Nicole is speaking at a routine ONYHS team meeting, where client assessments are presented and achievements or challenges are discussed.

Today, the focus is on a family facing eviction from community housing into homelessness, due to debt and other non-compliance issues.

For more than two years, Nicole has worked with the parents and their child, attempting to engage them – sometimes multiple times a week – and connect them to services and supports.

The family has a long history of homelessness underpinned by childhood trauma, abuse, mental health, violence and other complexities.

“The young people don’t have the same levels of maturity as those their age who have not experienced trauma, so their capacity to reflect and think logically is distorted,’’ Nicole says.

“Sometimes they have to hit rock bottom before they change but their rock bottom is different to ours; they’ve had the worst their whole lives, so this is just another day for them.’’

Amidst the family’s “deficits’’, Nicole and the team continue to search for strengths. A week later, their perseverance pays off.

The parents begin to engage. They apply for properties and bond support, reach out to mental health and start to pack their belongings. These might seem like small steps but, for this family, they are a giant leap forward.

“We cannot give up on clients,” Nicole says. “Even when we think we don’t have any more to give, if we keep going, we can see a positive change.”

From July 2018 to March this year, the Outer North Youth Homelessness Service supported 346 young people – 211 females and 135 males, aged 15 to 25.

“I’ve never had so many clients,’’ says Nicole, who is based at Nuriootpa. The ONYHS  currently provides support to 24 young people in the region, compared with 14 at the same time last year.

“In Nuriootpa there’s a big gap between rich and poor. You’ve got your wineries but then you have the low income earners and third generation on Centrelink.’’

This week Nicole is urging the wider community to think harder about youth homelessness: “If people are choosing to be on the street rather than home you have to consider why that it is.

“They may be couch surfing or sleeping behind schools, or in unsafe places… You would not choose that life if you didn’t have to.’’

Collaborative practice in the north is giving vulnerable young people broader access to crucial support networks.

Centacare is one of many organisations working together to wrap services around clients who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

“When the community resources and funding are less than ever, you have to be creative and proactive in getting things to happen,’’ says Tina Breen, Senior Social Worker at our Outer North Youth Homelessness Service. 

“Over the past 12 months we have really focussed on setting up what we call a care team for each young person.

“That means pulling in anybody that’s connected to that young person, and really strongly and purposefully collaborating together; we value what each service can bring to the table and work out how we can cross-services the young person to meet their needs.

“It’s about what we can do together as a sector to give young people the best chance of positive outcomes.’

The approach is giving young people access to multiple services at the same time so they don’t have to navigate complex systems alone, says Tina.

“I went to a meeting yesterday with 12 different agencies supporting one person.

“There is a huge possibility he’ll have really good outcomes because he’s got so much support wrapped around him.

“It’s a really strong community to work in.’’

Homelessness Week is an annual week coordinated by Homelessness Australia to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions.

Traumatic events in a person’s life can put them on a multi-directional path to homelessness. Understanding the impact of childhood trauma is driving Centacare’s support of vulnerable young people in the north.


It is easy to make assumptions about people living homeless: they’re tearaways, lazy, they should just get a job…

But it is the invisible pain cloaking their plight that’s guiding Centacare’s trauma informed care of young people living homeless in the north and Barossa Valley.

“I don’t think most people recognise the extent of how trauma effects people’s lives and their core,’’ says Megan Welsh, Executive Manager, Youth and Community Support Services.

“At the heart of their troubles is often years of immense sadness that’s hard to fathom when they’re still so young.

“Rather than punish and entrench that trauma, we try to repair and resolve it, and that in itself is quite complex because everybody’s experiences are different.’’

This is requiring a greater understanding of the challenges that precipitate homelessness, how adolescents act out as a result of experiencing childhood trauma, and the impact this has on the way Centacare supports them.

In response, the Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS) has adopted a trauma-informed approach to increase our capacity to support vulnerable young people beyond therapeutic and other traditional interventions.

The focus is as much on youth case workers as it is on those at risk.

“You hear a lot of stories, you feel a lot of pain and see a lot of distress,’’ says Tina Breen (pictured), Senior Social Worker. “That can sneak up on you.’’

Reflective practice and supervision is used to encourage staff self-care, and their work is guided by trauma informed policies and procedures.

A 2015 Pegasus Economics report shows unresolved trauma, and its long-term impact on an adult’s wellbeing, costs the nation about $7.8 billion each year.

In 15/16, the ONYHS supported 549 people (348 females and 201 males). Of these, 281 were homeless at intake, 218 were experiencing mental health issues and 57 were fleeing family or domestic violence.

“Most of the young people we see present with complex trauma: repeated episodes of abuse and neglect as a child is common,’’ Tina says.

“Developmental trauma linked to poor attachment and neglect is compounded by other risk factors, such as domestic violence, substance abuse and family breakdown, putting them on a multi-directional path to homelessness.

“As a result, they have less capacity to function so they might self-medicate or end up being the victim of further abuse, such as rape, or put themselves in violent situations because they don’t have the ability to act and respond and make decisions like everybody else.’’

Embedding a deeper understanding of trauma across the ONYHS is helping staff predict and more thoughtfully respond to young people’s reactions to some supportive interventions.

For example, a teenager’s refusal to eat may be due to deprivation or denial of food as a child.

“We might think we’re helping offering them a piece of toast if they’re feeling unwell, but what they see in that is a very scary, threatening act that makes them feel highly vulnerable,’’ Tina says.

Over recent months, the ONYHS has adopted a trauma informed approach to its psychosocial assessment at intake to avoid young people reliving painful events in their past.

In addition, to provide consistent support, limit disruption and foster stability, one youth case worker now works during the day at Carlow Place, Monday to Friday.

“Taking responsibility for understanding how trauma impacts their past allows us to make more informed responses in the support we provide to each young person,’’ Tina says.

*This week we are marking Homelessness Week (August 7-13). The national campaign aims to raise awareness of the experiences and challenges faced by people living out of home. The theme of this year’s week is ‘Action and Innovation‘ and we will be highlighting some of the ways we are supporting young people to stay safe, remain connected with their communities, and build their independence. Centacare provides specialist youth homelessness services, and accommodation support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, in regional and metropolitan South Australia.

#HW2017 #endhomelessness and #innovationinhomelessness





Today we mark the beginning of Homelessness Week. Coordinated by Homelessness Australia, this national campaign aims to raise awareness of people living homeless and the challenges they face. This week we will be highlighting the ways Centacare is supporting young people as we celebrate action and innovation across the homelessness sector.


A new transitional housing project in the north is helping young males to exit homelessness and prepare for their future.

Centacare has partnered with Hope Central at Elizabeth to redevelop two maisonettes and house four males aged 18 to 25 years.

The young people can lease the properties, owned by the church, for up to 18 months, providing they are on an independent income and engaged with a case worker through Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service.

Executive Manager Megan Welsh says the project aims to bridge a gap in affordable housing for young males living homeless, or at risk of homelessness, whose only other option is accommodation at a city boarding house.

“Finding safe and appropriate housing for young men in that age group is a lot more difficult than it is for women who are often pregnant or parenting and therefore have more options around housing,’’ she said.

In May, the first tenants moved into the properties which each have a shared kitchen but separate lockable bedroom and living areas.

“Our hope is that they increase their independent living skills, including how to budget and maintain a home but also how to be a good neighbour,’’ Megan said.

“Most importantly it’s giving the young men a rental history. That’s part of the problem: getting a start.’’

The project has simultaneously benefitted job seekers, with Centacare’s Work Ready Training participants involved in fitting out and renovating the properties.

“It’s been a very exciting project to work on because it’s been a community effort,’’ said Wendy Brooks, Operations Pastor, Hope Central.

“We’ve never done anything like this before so to be able to work with other groups of people who had the expertise we didn’t has been amazing.’’

Tina Breen, Senior Social Worker, said there was a misconception vulnerable young males were less at risk than females.

“We know that young men are less likely to access support but are at greater risk of social isolation if they disconnect from family, friends and society.

“The longer their mental and physical health goes downhill, the less likely their chance of recovery.

“If they can’t get a motel room and don’t have the option of respite and safety supports that females do, then often they will engage in illegal activity or connect with people that are undesirable simply to access some form of accommodation.’’

Besides providing a stepping stone to longer-term housing, the Hope project is connecting young people to community, Tina says, highlighting their welcome participation in church activities, such as free Sunday breakfast.

*This week we are joining in the national campaign to highlight homelessness across Australia. Coordinated by Homelessness Australia, National Homelessness Week (August 7-13) aims to raise awareness of the experiences and challenges faced by people living out of home. The theme of this year’s week is ‘Action and Innovation‘ and we will be highlighting some of the ways we are supporting young people to stay safe, remain connected with their communities, and build their independence. Centacare provides specialist youth homelessness services, and accommodation support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, in regional and metropolitan South Australia.

#HW2017 #endhomelessness and #innovationinhomelessness




Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

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