This could be a housing solution for at-risk Ballarat youth needing emergency housing

OWN SPACE: Foster carer Maria Baldwin, CAFS chief Allan Joy and Kids Under Cover chief Jo Swift check out the backyard studio in a Ballarat suburb for what will be a first in emergency care. Picture: Lachlan Bence
OWN SPACE: Foster carer Maria Baldwin, CAFS chief Allan Joy and Kids Under Cover chief Jo Swift check out the backyard studio in a Ballarat suburb for what will be a first in emergency care. Picture: Lachlan Bence

FOSTER carers Maria and Paul Baldwin will be the first in Australia to trial backyard accommodation for vulnerable teenagers in need of emergency care.

The new, modern and relocatable single bedroom studio, which took less than a fortnight to create, is part of a pilot program from Kids Under Cover, an organisation that works to prevent youth homelessness.

Kids Under Cover is teaming with Ballarat Child and Family Services on the project in a bid to ease the shortage on low-level emergency care for at-risk youth – many who are otherwise put up temporarily in hotels.

Long-time foster carer Maria Baldwin, who is studying a diploma in community service, said the project was definitely worth trying in what seemed an innovative way to solve a big issue.

“It’s really important for teenagers to have their own space, particularly when they’re coming in from out-of-home care places. It’s a chance for them to get their heads together emotionally but know they’re not alone,” Ms Baldwin said. “They still eat with us inside, but have that time-out in their own space, that they are responsible for cleaning. But having connections is really important.”

The studio space contains a small bathroom with shower, a desk for study, a small bar fridge and kettle.

Kids Under Cover will pilot two backyard units in Ballarat and two in another regional Victorian location.

Data from the pilot will be collated with Swinburne University in what Kids Under Cover chief Jo Swift hoped would convince the state government to adopt to fill a gap in the emergency space without retraumatising at-risk youth.

“They will be part of a loving environment until a more permanent place is found. Case workers can take their time then to find the right place,” Ms Swift said.

The pilot units are funded through philanthropy. 

Kids Under Cover’s studio program has delivered relocatable studios for at-risk youth on the property of carers and families for almost 30 years. The foster carers’ pilot is an extension of this.

Accommodation is designed for young people aged 12 to 18 years for up to six months. This can be for children who are removed from the family home or who may be fleeing family violence and require immediate response.

CAFS chief executive officer Allan Joy said the lack of adequate emergency housing for these young people was distressing, particularly with high numbers being housed in hotels and motels across Ballarat.

Mr Joy said the studios looked to be a good set-up for young people and their carers.

About 130 children are in emergency care across the Central Highlands region.​