The socio-economic case for extending the age of leaving out-of-home care

The socio-economic case for extending the age of leaving out-of-home care

30 November 2016
The socio-economic case for extending the age of leaving out-of-home care

Extending the age of leaving care to 21 years would result in a range of socio-economic benefits, writes Dr Tatiana Corrales.

Young people leaving care represent a particularly vulnerable cohort of the out-of-home care (OOHC) population. While there are provisions in every Australian state and territory for post-care support, these provisions are non-binding, non-specific and non-mandatory. As such, young care leavers face a post-care system that is ad hoc and rarely targeted to meet their specific developmental and psychosocial needs (see Campo & Commerford, 2016, for a recent review).

Anglicare Victoria recently commissioned DeLoitte Access Economics to conduct a socio-economic cost/benefit analysis on the proposal to extend the age of leaving care to 21 years old. The cost/benefit analysis assumed a voluntary program for all young people in care with an uptake rate of 25%.

Another core underlying assumption was that the provision of extended support to remain in a care arrangement be applied regardless of care type (foster, kinship, or residential care). However, the actual monetary costs were modelled on current costs associated with foster care. As such, the modelling is weighted towards the home-based and kinship care cohorts, reflecting broader OOHC population trends.

Monetary benefits and costs were calculated for key life outcomes, including education and employment, housing and homelessness, drug abuse and mental health, and reduced contact with the justice system.

Based on the assumptions built into the model, the overall cost/benefit ratio of the program in 2015 Australian dollars equalled $1.84. That means each dollar invested would see a $1.84 return, either in direct savings or in increased income to the individual and the community.

The total estimated benefits over a 40-year period were estimated at $19.3 million in Victoria alone. In addition, model estimates indicated a substantial reduction in the probability of homelessness, arrests, hospitalisations and drug abuse. Concomitantly, there was an increased probability of pursuing further education.

These results align with international research that points to the benefits of offering young people and carers the option of extended care, up to the young person’s 21st birthday. Research in the US, for example (see Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Keller, Cusick & Courtney, 2007; Lee, Courtney & Hook, 2012), has shown that, compared to young people who exit care at 18, those who are able to stay in care until 21 have demonstrably better outcomes. These include higher educational engagement and attainment, less contact with the adult justice system, delayed parenthood, and increased wage-earning potential over time.

More broadly, the case for extending the age of leaving care explicitly acknowledges that improving the life outcomes of young care leavers necessitates a range of structural, systemic and cultural changes, including the prioritisation of on-going support during a critical developmental transition period.

An extended care model would provide young people in OOHC a more normative transition to adulthood, marked by stability and continuity of relationships. Importantly, it would help create the conditions for these young people to pursue education and training, and access supports to help them address the multiple and often complex challenges in their lives.

Read the full DeLoitte report commissioned by Anglicare Victoria (PDF).


Campo, M., & Commerford, J. (2016). Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care (CFCA Paper No. 41). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Courtney, M. E., & Dworsky, A. (2006). Early outcomes for young adults transitioning from out-of-home care in the USA. Child and Family Social Work, 11(3), 209-219.

Keller, T. E., Cusick, G. R., & Courtney, M. E. (2007). Approaching the transition to adulthood: Distinctive profiles of adolescents aging out of the child welfare system. Social Service Review, 81(3), 453-484.

Lee, J.S., Courtney, M. E., & Hook, J. L. (2012). Formal bonds during the transition to adulthood: Extended foster care support and criminal/legal involvement. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 6(3), 255-279. doi: 10.1080/15548732.2012.683336.

Peters, C. M., Dworsky, A., Courtney, M. E., & Pollack, H. (2009). The benefits and costs of extending foster care to age 21. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from:


The feature image is by Amanda Venner, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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Tatiana Corrales

Dr Tatiana Corrales is Principal Researcher at Anglicare Victoria.

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