An article published on 6th May this year by Associate Professor Philip Mendes from the Department of Social Work at Monash University, summarises key messages from recent public inquiries about supporting young people leaving out-of-home care.
Mendes cites research showing young people leaving out-of-home care after they turn 18 years of age face many barriers as they transition into adulthood without family support (Campo & Commerford, 2016) and that young care leavers are at increased risk of homelessness, substance use and contact with the criminal justice system than other young people. Young people leaving care are also more likely to have poorer health, education and employment outcomes than the non-care population (Mendes, Johnson, & Moslehuddin, 2011).
This has led to calls from various sector advocates, including the Home Stretch campaign, for the age of young people leaving care to be extended beyond 18 years.
Summary of report findings and recommendations (as identified by Mendes)
|Problems identified concerning young people leaving care and proposed age of transition
Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children’s Inquiry
|This report argued a significant number of care leavers experience ‘long term negative life outcomes’ (p. 260). Poor transitions were identified in housing, criminal justice and education. It proposed post-care support be extended on a needs basis beyond 18 years of age and the government consider in the medium term extending assistance until 25 years of age.
An uncertain road ahead – Young people leaving care in Tasmania
|This report suggested many care leavers experienced major obstacles to achieving independence and were at high risk of becoming reliant on crisis support services, including mental health and criminal justice. The report identified poor outcomes in housing, income support, criminal justice and limited community networks. It recommended a formal legislative amendment to ensure post-care support until 25 years of age.
Taking responsibility: A roadmap for Queensland child protection
|This report suggested care leavers were likely to experience poor long-term outcomes, as reflected by their high risk of homelessness or involvement with the criminal justice system. It argued post-care support should be available until at least 21 years of age.
|Commonwealth of Australia (2015)
Inquiry into out of home care
|This report identified poor outcomes for care leavers in areas such as housing, education, employment and reliance on income support payments. It supported extending the leaving care age to 21 years of age.
|South Australia (2016)
‘The life they deserve’: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission report
|This report referred to evidence of poor outcomes in a range of areas such as health, education, employment, life skills, housing, relationships, social connections and early parenting. It endorsed a legal responsibility to support care leavers until 25 years of age.
|New South Wales (2017)
Inquiry into Child Protection
|This report outlined major concerns about poor outcomes in areas such as accommodation, employment and education and involvement in the criminal justice system. It recommended a legislative amendment to ensure support for care leavers until at least 21 years of age.
|Northern Territory (2017)
Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
|This report highlighted evidence of poor housing outcomes and called on the Northern Territory Government to reform practice and funding to ensure they met their existing legal obligation to support care leavers until 25 years of age.
|Western Australia (2018)
Young people leaving care
|This report identified concerns about limited access to leaving care supports resulting in vulnerability to homelessness, unemployment, limited opportunities for education and training, and sub-standard physical and mental health care. It proposed improved cross-agency collaboration to ensure that young people receive priority assistance in key areas such as housing, education and employment. No specific leaving care age identified.
Campo, M., & Commerford, J. (2016). Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care (CFCA Paper 41). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Mendes, P., Johnson, G., & Moslehuddin, B. (2011). Young people leaving state out-of-home care: Australian policy and practice. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing.
Read the full article by Mendes here.
In Queensland, the Child Protection Act 1999 legislative amendments in late 2018 included increasing the period which the Chief Executive remains responsible for supporting a young person in care, beginning at 15 years of age, and until the young person turns 25 years of age (section 75(2)(b)).
The Act clearly defines areas of support which the Chief Executive must assist a young person to acquire as they transition to adulthood:
- Help to access to entitlements (including social security allowances and payments)
- Help to access appropriate accommodation
- Help to access education and training
- Help to obtain employment
- Help to obtain legal advice
- Help to access health and community services (including specialist disability services)
- Support in establishing and maintaining relationships with the person’s family or carer
- Help in accessing information (including information in the Chief Executives control, about the person and his or her time in care)
- Other assistance, based upon an assessment of the person’s needs
When developing a case plan for a young person 15 years of age or over, the Act requires the plan to include actions for helping the young person transition to adulthood. Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people must also be provided the opportunity to identify and include an Independent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Person to support them in decision making about transition to adulthood planning.
The five elements of the Child Placement Principle must be taken into account, when planning for adulthood with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people:
- Prevention: Recognises a young person’s right to enjoy culture with community
- Partnership: Recognises and promotes self determination as a principle for working with the young person
- Placement: Recognises planning for living arrangements that meet individual and cultural needs
- Participation: Ensuring the participation of young people, and their parents and family members in decisions
- Connection: Maintaining and supporting connections to family, community, culture and country for young people.
Home Stretch campaign
Home Stretch is a national campaign, initiated by Anglicare Victoria, to extend support for young people in state care to 21 years of age. The message of this campaign is that, as a parent to thousands of young people, state and territory governments should provide this option, much like what is happening in any other family setting in Australia. The termination of care by state governments at 18 years is not consistent with parenting that is seeing most young people remain home well into their 20’s.
In Queensland, Anglicare Southern Queensland is taking the lead in establishing the Home Stretch campaign and is in the early stages of setting up a coalition of agencies to support the campaign.
Leanne Wood Research, Social Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Anglicare SQ – email email@example.com