Out-of-home care ends for many young people at 18, but there’s a push around Australia to extend it to age 21

Out-of-home care ends for many young people at 18, but there’s a push around Australia to extend it to age 21

By Bridget Fitzgerald

Posted Thursday 31 December 2020 at 5:50am

Key points:

  • Young people are not eligible for residential or foster care after the age of 18 in most states and territories
  • In Western Australia, 14 young people are in a trial with care extended until the age of 21
  • Victoria will raise the age of eligibility for out-of-home care to 21 on January 1

Shelley Farmer remembers growing up in out-of-home care as a tumultuous and, at times, traumatic experience.

“I remember there was a lot of people, a lot of badges, a lot of white cars, a lot of flash offices that we were put into and had to play with certain toys while adults spoke,” she said.

“There really isn’t a time I could recall someone saying, ‘What would you like to do? Where do you feel safest?'”

The now 24-year-old Noongar woman lives in Perth and was in care from 11 to 18 years old.

She lived in nine different homes and went to five different high schools.

Despite the instability of her early years, she said she remembered the fear she felt when she turned 18 and was no longer the responsibility of the state, which meant she was on her own.

“[It was] after I graduated high school. My birthday’s in January, so I had until then to move out,” she said.

“I remember thinking, ‘Where am I going to live and who am I going to live with?’

“I was fortunate enough to have a full-time job by the time I was 18 and I moved in with someone I’d just met, maybe two weeks, just [someone I] met in the workplace.”

Leaving care meant Ms Farmer’s kinship carers at the time no longer received support from the State Government to keep her living with them.

She moved out and once she was out of the system, she said she had no-one to help her with the financial and emotional support in her transition to early adulthood.

“I remember things like I would get my employment contract and I wouldn’t know nothing about things called entitlements or annual leave and how to accrue leave.

“I just remember wishing I had someone to sit down and talk me through it,” she said.

“When I got my drivers’ licence, I didn’t even know about insuring my car — for years I drove around in an uninsured car and I could have lived a lot easier.”

Push to raise out-of-home care age

State-funded out-of-home care ends once those in care turn 18 in Shelley Farmer’s home state of Western Australia, as it does in most states and territories.

But there is change underway to extend the age from 18 to 21.

There are currently 14 young people in care in WA engaged in a trial that continues support until they turn 21.

From January 1, Victoria will allow all young people in out-of-home care — either foster, kinship or residential — to extend support up until the age of 21.

The Victorian model is optional, and if those in care wish to leave once they turn 18, they may do so.

Paul McDonald, Chair of Home Stretch campaign
Paul McDonald says research shows that outcomes can be greatly improved by an increase in the age young people can access out-of-home care.(ABC News: Aneeta Bhole)

Paul McDonald from the Home Stretch campaign said he wanted to see the care age be extended to 21 in every state and territory.

“The state says, ‘We’ll bring you in, we’ll remove you from the abuse and neglect, we’ll care for you, but at the turn of your 18th birthday, our support, our care will formally end,'” he said.

“[But] there’s been good progress by South Australia and Tasmania in which they’ve provided those in home-based case — foster care and kinship care — through to 21, for that provision, and Western Australia is conducting trials. At the moment in all those states, there’s about 480 young people enjoying the benefits of extending care to 21.

“We’ve heard good noise from the ACT and Northern Territory governments to say they’ll do the same and we’re now looking for NSW and Queensland to follow suit.”

Raising age could reduce likelihood of homelessness

A report published by the Telethon Kids Institute last year found that young people who had lived in care were a highly vulnerable and disadvantaged group.

The data, which mapped the progress of more than 2,000 young people found they had a high risk of negative outcomes, including issues with mental health disorders, interaction with the justice system and failing to complete education.

Mr McDonald said research has also found the benefits of extending out-of-home provisions to young people for an extra three years were clear.

“Whenever care is extended by a further three years, we halve the homeless rates for this cohort,” he said.

“And why that is so significant is that of all Australia’s homeless youth population, 62 per cent are care leavers.

“We also know we’ll double their education and employment results.”

Although she has now found stability in a good job and a family of her own, Ms Farmer said she wished she could have benefited from more support as a young person and would like to see the out-of-home care age extended nationally.

“It will provide them safety, security, and that comes down to medical, financial, emotional, all that support they will need,” she said.

“When you’re 18 to 21 that’s a perfect opportunity to really cement what you wish to do with your life or wellbeing.”

Read original article on the ABC here.


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