Young people transitioning from out-of-home care: What do public inquiries tell us about the state of current policy and practice in Australia?

Young people transitioning from out-of-home care: What do public inquiries tell us about the state of current policy and practice in Australia?

6 May 2019
A photograph of a short haired young adult.

This short article summarises key messages from recent public inquiries about supporting young people leaving out-of-home care.

Young people leaving out-of-home care after they turn 18 years of age face many barriers as they transition into adulthood without family support (Campo & Commerford, 2016). 

Young care leavers are at increased risk of homelessness, substance use and contact with the criminal justice system than other young people. Young people leaving care are also more likely to have poorer health, education and employment outcomes than the non-care population (Mendes, Johnson, & Moslehuddin, 2011). This has led to calls from various sector advocates, including the Home Stretch campaign, for the age of young people leaving care to be extended from 18 years to 21 years.

There is substantial local and international research evidence in favour of extending care (Mendes & Snow, 2016). Arguably, the strongest body of evidence to support extending the age of leaving care emanates from eight public reports prepared by a range of government and related statutory bodies from 2012–18. A summary of each of these reports is provided below.

Public reports related to leaving care

Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children’s Inquiry
Victorian Government (2012)

This report argued a significant number of care leavers experience ‘long term negative life outcomes’ (p. 260). It proposed post-care support be extended on a needs basis beyond 18 years of age and the government consider in the medium term extending assistance until 25 years of age.

Download the report via the Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children Inquiry website.

An uncertain road ahead – Young people leaving care in Tasmania
Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tasmania (2012)

This report suggested many care leavers experienced major obstacles to achieving independence and were at high risk of becoming reliant on crisis support services, including mental health and criminal justice. It recommended a formal legislative amendment to ensure post-care support until 25 years of age.

Access a copy of the report.

Taking responsibility: A roadmap for Queensland child protection
Queensland Government (2013)

This report suggested care leavers were likely to experience poor long-term outcomes, as reflected by their high risk of homelessness or involvement with the criminal justice system. It argued post-care support should be available until at least 21 years of age.

Download the report via the Queensland Government website.

Inquiry into out of home care
Commonwealth Community Affairs Committee (2015)

This report identified poor outcomes for care leavers in areas such as housing, education, employment and reliance on income support payments. It supported extending the leaving care age to 21 years of age.

Download the report via the Parliament of Australia website.

‘The life they deserve’: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission report
South Australian Government (2016)

This report referred to evidence of poor outcomes in a range of areas. It endorsed a legal responsibility to support care leavers until 25 years of age.

Download the report via the Attorney-General’s Department (SA) website.

Inquiry into Child Protection
NSW Legislative Council (2017)

This report outlined major concerns about poor outcomes in areas such as accommodation, employment and education. It recommended a legislative amendment to ensure support for care leavers until at least 21 years of age.

Download the report via the Parliament of New South Wales website.

Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
Northern Territory Government (2017)

This report highlighted evidence of poor housing outcomes and called on the Northern Territory Government to reform practice and funding to ensure they met their existing legal obligation to support care leavers until 25 years of age.

Download the report via the Royal Commission website.

Young people leaving care
Western Australian Auditor General (2018)

This report identified concerns about limited access to leaving care supports resulting in vulnerability to homelessness, unemployment, limited opportunities for education and training, and sub-standard physical and mental health care. It proposed improved cross-agency collaboration to ensure that young people receive priority assistance in key areas such as housing, education and employment.

Download the report via the Office of the Auditor General website.

Summary of findings

The findings of the eight reports are summarised in the table below. Their overall findings establish a consensus that care leavers currently experience limited life chances compared to their non-care peers and that an extension of support until at least 21 years of age is required to improve outcomes.

Table: Summary of report findings and recommendations
  Problems identified concerning young people leaving care Proposed age of transition
Victoria (2012) Poor transitions identified in housing, criminal justice and education Extend placements beyond 18 years
Tasmania (2012) Poor outcomes in housing, income support, criminal justice and limited community networks Legal support until 25 years
Queensland (2013) Poor life chances, homelessness and offending  Greater support until 21 years
Commonwealth of Australia
(2015)
Vulnerability in a range of areas, including housing, education and employment Post-care until 21 years
South Australia (2016) Poor outcomes in areas such as health, education and employment, life skills and housing, relationships and social connections, and early parenting Mandatory support until 25 years
New South Wales (2017) Poor outcomes as reflected in homelessness, limited education, and involvement in the criminal justice system Mandatory support until 21 years
Northern Territory (2017) Disadvantage in housing access Obligatory support until 25 years
Western Australia (2018) Poor access to leaving care supports No specific leaving care age

While there are currently no mandatory legislative provisions in Australian jurisdictions for the funding and support of care leavers beyond the age of 18 years, there have been some recent changes in leaving care policy and practice.

In 2018, four states announced their intention to trial an extension of care until 21 years for selected groups of care leavers. South Australia and Tasmania have announced their intention to introduce extended supports until 21 years of age. Victoria has commenced a trial program to extend care for 250 young people over five years, and Western Australia commenced a trial program supporting 20 young people in May 2019. The Home Stretch Campaign’s website provides updates on new policy developments.

Additionally, the Commonwealth Government, via the National Child Protection Framework, has increasingly encouraged all jurisdictions to adopt measures that will improve outcomes for care leavers, particularly around the prevention of homelessness.

References

Campo, M., & Commerford, J. (2016). Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care (CFCA Paper 41). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Mendes, P., Johnson, G., & Moslehuddin, B. (2011). Young people leaving state out-of-home care: Australian policy and practice. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Mendes, P. & Snow, P. (Eds). (2016). Young people transitioning from out-of-home care: International research, policy and practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Further reading and resources

Campo, M., & Commerford, J. (2016). Supporting young people leaving out-of-home care (CFCA Paper 41). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Mendes, P. (2018). Towards the social inclusion of young people transitioning from out-of-home care: An examination of the Home Stretch campaign to extend state supports till 21 years. Social Alternatives, 37(1), 59–62.

The Home Stretch Campaign: In August 2016, Anglicare Victoria established the Home Stretch campaign to lobby to extend the age of young people leaving out-of-home care from 18 years to 21 years.


Feature image: © GettyImages/gustavofrazao

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Authors

Philip Mendes

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University.

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