The one reform that will halve youth homelessness

The one reform that will halve youth homelessness

5 April, 2017

Youth Homelessness Matters Day is about celebrating young people’s resilience and capabilities. It’s also about reflecting on what we as a society can do to support young people at risk of homelessness and provide young people with the opportunities most of us take for granted.

Young people who have lived in state care are dramatically overrepresented when we look at young people who are homeless. Recent studies have shown that 63% of young homeless people have been in state care at some point in their lives. It’s critical that we consider the unique needs of these vulnerable young people on Youth Homelessness Matters Day.

A simple reform to halve homelessness for young people coming out of state care is to extend care to 21 years. Sounds simple? It is.

This means that young people coming out of state care won’t be kicked out of their homes at 18. Which in many cases leads on to young people ending up homeless, unemployed, in jail or pregnant.

An extension to 21 isn’t even radical when you look at the statistics of when most young people leave the family. 50% of Australia’s 24 year olds have never left the family home.

So this reform provides the option to those who need that extra one, two or three years to transition into adulthood with the appropriate supports that are essential to living independently.

The policy won’t only reduce youth homelessness, but studies and international evidence shows it will also decrease the youth crime rates and youth unemployment rates. And, yes, it will make money.

It will also save Australia from further international embarrassment because we are becoming isolated among Western countries by continuing to abandon out-of-home care support when the children turn 18.

Society has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, making independent living at 18 more tricky, dangerous and expensive. It is no longer possible to walk straight into a job at 18, housing affordability has priced many young people out of the home and rental market. Drugs and crime make the outside world a much more dangerous place for young people. It is little wonder that many young people these days stay with their parents until well into their 20s and 30s. Yet our State governments continue to “evict” young people who have had a damaged past and are the least prepared to deal with independent living at age 18.

Young people who have had traumatic or neglectful upbringings are more likely to be involved in crime, drugs, homelessness and dropping out of school. Out-of- home care can help keep them on track. But then we dump them into a dangerous environment when they are simply not prepared for it.

New Zealand has done it. The UK and parts of Europe have done it. Canada and the US has accepted that 18 year-olds, especially those from a difficult background, are far too young to cut loose from the support provided by out-of-home care.

The evidence from all over the world shows that extending out-of-of-home care from 18 to 21 created dramatic improvement in homelessness, crime rates and education outcomes. The US and the UK both saw a halving in homelessness and a doubling in education participation rates.

A recent report from Deloitte Access Economics commissioned by Anglicare Victoria has nailed the argument and made the policy a “no-brainer”. The Deloitte report found that for every dollar State Governments spent on extending out-of-home care, they would get an average of $2.13 return through reduced costs of homelessness, fewer hospitalisations and fewer arrests.

This is the first time in Australia these savings have been quantified and it shows there is no longer any excuse for delaying this important policy change which has been accepted by just about all other comparable democracies

We too, in Australia can and should provide young people leaving state care the option to leave care later.

Paul McDonald, Chair of Home Stretch campaign and Chief Executive Anglicare Victoria

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