Support for Care Leavers

For every single dollar invested in extending the age for OOHC, society benefits by saving more than $2

The Importance of Ongoing Support for Young People Exiting Care

Across Australia the average age of young people when they leave home continues to rise. The proportion of 20 to 24-year-olds living with parents grew from 41.4 per cent to 43.4 per cent between 2011 and 2016. And when these young adults do leave home, they often have the option to return home if they need to, or simply want to save money. Adult children can generally also rely on their parents to give them advice as well as material and emotional support throughout their transition to independence and beyond.

Contrast this with young people leaving the Out-of-Home-Care (OOHC) system. Children and young people in OOHC leave care at 18 years of age (and many self-select out before this point) and that is where the funding, relationships and support generally stops. They are meant to have a leaving-care plan, but without ongoing adult support, these are often hardly worth the paper they are written on. Imagine entering the adult world with no family support, with no one to ask how to negotiate the challenges of finding work, budgeting, preparing meals, or securing a lease on housing. Imagine having no one to ask, and no one who cares if you’re doing ok.

“At this perilous age, when other kids are considering tertiary education or travel, all funding to foster children is cut off and these teens find themselves broke and homeless” – Wendy Squires

Young people exiting care are many times more likely to end up homeless, in prison, young parents, or struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues than their peers. According to a report published by CREATE in 2009, 35% of young people experienced homelessness within the first year of leaving care, 29% were unemployed and 46% of boys had been involved in the justice system. Paul McDonald, Chair of The Home Stretch, claimed in this interview that 18-21 year old care-leavers are 8 times more likely to take their own lives than their peers. Clearly these are unacceptable outcomes for any section of the population, but it is doubly shameful that these are the people who the system have looked after through their childhood to keep them safe from harm.

The experience of OOHC clearly can, and often does, adversely impact and influence young people’s transitioning towards independence. Without proper support and preparation local and international studies constantly find that young care-leavers suffer poorer outcomes than young people who have not had an experience of OOHC. Young people with an OOHC experience may struggle to build and maintain healthy relationships, have difficulty in regard to emotional regulation and be more at risk of developing mental and physical health concerns in later life. These issues may lead to significant barriers in regard to being able to maintain stable employment and find safe sustainable housing.

Ayub was in OOHC from when he was 6 years old. He became homeless when he exited care. He says “I was really surprised that so many other kids I met on the street had state care backgrounds; just like me they had nowhere else to go. These were meant to be some of the most memorable and formative years of my life. Instead, I was just trying to make it through each hour and each day desperately holding onto what was left of my sense of pride and self-worth.”

The difficulties faced by young people exiting care is being recognised across the world and across Australia. The Home Stretch campaign is an Australian expression of this, but while announcements have been made in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and West Australia, that the state will enable young people to remain in care until they turn 21 should they choose to, this has not been implemented in NSW. Last week The Home Stretch held a Symposium here in NSW to continue to urge state & territory governments to take responsibility for these vulnerable young adults. What is known already is that for every single dollar invested in extending the age for OOHC, society benefits by saving more than $2. This is through reducing crime, mental health care costs, drug and alcohol dependency costs, hospitalisations and teen pregnancies.

SAF long ago recognised this serious shortfall in real care for vulnerable young adults and have self-funded our own Aftercare program for over 20 years. This has enabled us to continue to provide support to young people up until 25 years of age, which allows us to continue our already established relationships and provide a continuum of care that is not otherwise available. Our Aftercare program provides support to young people in SAF’s Care from 15+ years in preparation for existing formal care in conjunction with their case manager and/or caseworker and others as appropriate. This involves a schedule of regular leaving care planning meetings to develop all client’s (aged 15+) leaving care and financial plans, and establishing concrete supports for them.

The Stretch-A-family Aftercare program is designed to deliver effective, therapeutic, individually tailored, consistent and structured casework support to SAF care leavers. This support is offered to all SAF clients preparing to exit care through leaving care planning and transition support as well as to clients who have already left care with a focus on providing or arranging casework supports up to 25 years of age. The program is delivered by an Aftercare Caseworker who is able to engage and connect with young people in a nurturing way to provided support, guidance and mentoring to young care-leavers. The program adopts a strengths-based and inclusive approach that encourages goal setting and future planning that is driven by the young people themselves.

Any young person that has ever been under the care of SAF can access this service and will be able to access advice and advocacy – including housing, budgeting, general living skills, referrals to counselling/drug and alcohol support, accessing their leaving care plan, financials and everything in between.

“There is no such thing as a kid born bad. But, damn, if we continue to overlook and underfund those whose only crime is being dealt a dud parental hand, then we as adults need to look into our own hearts and ask if this is good enough” – Wendy Squires

If you would like to help support these vulnerable young people, you can donate to SAF, or support the Home Stretch campaign. These young people are our collective responsibility.