AN increasing number of young people are at risk of falling through gaps in homelessness services, with demand for specialist housing support for 12 to 16-year-olds on the rise.

Centacare Catholic Family Services is experiencing a higher than usual demand for help from children who are  living away from home but are too young to access services under current funding agreements.

The trend has prompted a data count across Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service (ONYHS) to monitor the ages of at-risk youth and identify gaps in sector responses.

Since February, 22 young people aged 14-16 years have contacted the service for support.

Megan Welsh, Executive Manager Youth and Community Support Services, said children who were unable to reunify with their families were most vulnerable.

“If it’s safe for them to return home, we can put strategies in place to work with mum and dad and the young person to get the family back on track,’’ she said.

“But if there’s domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues, reunification is not often an option and that’s when the service gap for that middle age bracket is exposed.

“It has always been an issue, but it’s becoming a bigger issue.

“If we know how many young people are presenting to us who are too young to quality for services, we can advocate for them to get them the support they require.

“There is a need for a therapeutic service model for the really young.’’

The ONYHS provides case management, early intervention, and outreach, post-crisis and wait-list support for young people aged 15-25 years who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across the Playford, Gawler and Barossa Council areas.

Young people aged 15-18 who are homeless can access emergency and intensive support at Carlow Place, Centacare’s 24-hour supported core and cluster residential facility at Elizabeth.

“The problem is the age group needing support is getting younger,’’ ONYHS Manager, Tracy Ingram said.

“Some kids have been couch surfing since they were 12. They are disengaged from school, malnourished and highly vulnerable; it’s heartbreaking.’’

Tracy said the most common cause of youth homelessness was family breakdown and poor communication between parents and children.

“Parents think if they kick their 14-year-old out of home they’ll find a house but that’s not always the case.

“It’s likely that young person will end up on the street because there are no beds across the system for them.’’

Youth homelessness is being highlighted this month as part of a national campaign to raise awareness and support for young people who experience or are at risk of homelessness.

Culminating on Youth Homelessness Matters Day, next Wednesday, April 13, the campaign is a call to everyone to take action in publicly stating that youth homelessness matters and should be prevented.