Foster care sector celebrates reform to support vulnerable young people to the age of 21
12 June 2023
Every state and territory government in Australia has now agreed to provide vulnerable young people in foster care with support to the age of 21 years.
Paul McDonald, Chair of The Home Stretch coalition who led this reform, says that government representatives and child welfare experts across Australia and the world will meet in Melbourne on Thursday to celebrate our country’s most significant modern reform of the foster care system.
“While this is fantastic news for the 55,000 children and young people in out-of-home care, there is still a lot of work to be done. Supports for young people differ between states and they continue to have problems accessing housing. It’s time for the Australian Government to step up and help with this,” says Mr McDonald.
“It’s extremely difficult for young people to complete their studies, get employment or even receive government supports if they haven’t got a roof over their heads or a place to call home. Governments need to commit to making housing stock a priority to give these young people the better start in adult life they deserve.”
The Home Stretch advocacy began in 2016 when 160 organisations joined forces to lobby for significant reforms.
At the time, around 3,000 young people were leaving care each year with disturbing outcomes. In the first year, around half suffered unemployment, mental health issues, were unable to continue their education, had teenage pregnancies or found themselves in the justice system. This group made up two-thirds of the homeless youth population.
“We started The Home Stretch campaign at a time when state and territory governments were transitioning vulnerable young people out of foster care from the age of just 15. When they turned 18, all support stopped. We argued that our governments were failing in their statutory responsibility to protect foster children from harm and give them the best possible start in adult life,” says Mr McDonald.
Caroline Fletcher was just 17, and in her first week of Year 12, when she left the care system.
“I had to pack up my stuff and I found myself abruptly out on my own. It was a very turbulent time. I had to work three jobs while trying to finish high school just to survive. I lived in my car and couch-surfed for a few weeks. I was homeless multiple times. I think anyone who survives that is a success story. Life would have been so much easier if I was supported in the home stretch.”
Today, Caroline works as a youth advocate and in the out-of-home care sector in Queensland. Last year, she was awarded the 2022 Australian Human Rights Young Person Award for her work advocating for young people in the foster care system.
The Home Stretch Symposium will be held in Melbourne on 15 and 16 June. Speakers from Australia and overseas will present the latest research and evidence-based best practice in extended care to 21 years policy.