Beyond 18: The Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care
Beyond 18: The Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care ("Beyond 18") was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to increase understanding of the factors associated with successful transitions from out-of-home care. The study is scheduled to end in 2018.
Beyond 18 has three main elements:
- the Longitudinal Survey of Young People (Beyond 18's central component). It comprises three waves of annual data collection from young people who have spent time in statutory care in Victoria. Data are collected via online surveys and follow-up qualitative telephone interviews. The first wave of the survey involved 202 young people aged 16-19 years old.
- three annual online surveys of carers and caseworkers. These surveys run at the same time as the annual survey of young people.
- analysis of an extract from the DHHS Client Relationship Information System (CRIS). Options for data linkage with young people's survey data and with other government datasets are being explored.
This first research report for the Beyond 18 study uses data from the first wave of surveys to focus on young people's preparations for transition from out-of-home care. Future research reports will detail young people's post-care outcomes and the factors influencing their outcomes.
Previous research on transitions from out-of-home care has indicated that early, comprehensive and collaborative transition planning is associated with better post-care outcomes. Initial findings from the Beyond 18 study, however, suggest that state legislation and practice guidelines about transition planning were often not followed and that young people were frequently not involved in formal, structured planning about their future. Some of the inconsistency around transition planning appeared to be related to caseworkers' focus on meeting young people's most urgent needs, such as having somewhere to live when they leave care, rather than other important but less pressing forms of transition preparation. A lack of accessible leaving care services was also a potential barrier to effective planning.
The study's key findings are outlined under the headings below.
Formal transition planning
Victorian state legislation and policy stipulates that all young people in out-of-home care have a transition plan at least 12 months before they leave care. In the Beyond 18 study, however, only 46% of care leavers and 22% of young people still in out-of-home care reported that they had a transition plan.
Most caseworkers in Beyond 18 reported that their own transition planning practices were in accordance with state guidelines but they also identified a lack of leaving care support and access to services as a barrier to effective transition planning. For most carers and caseworkers in the study, formal transition planning was also a relatively low priority in comparison to care leavers' urgent need for appropriate post-care housing. The focus on housing is understandable: young people have a high risk of becoming homeless after leaving care - which, in turn, can affect their mental and physical health - and appropriate housing is often in short supply and difficult to find. However, international research suggests that the emphasis on urgent needs can come at the expense of young people's need for help with their physical and mental wellbeing, social and emotional development and systematic transition planning. This lack of systematic and holistic planning and support can have long-term consequences for young people's wellbeing.
Care leavers commonly leave school earlier than young people in the general population and are less likely to achieve Year 12 or equivalent qualifications. Although caseworkers in Beyond 18 recognised young people's need for education and training support, the education outcomes of young people in Beyond 18 were often poor. Only 25% of the 72 school leavers in the study had completed Year 12 and 27% had not completed Year 10. However, the majority (59%) of young people in Beyond 18 were still in school and most had completed at least Year 10. This suggests that the overall study population's educational outcomes will be better than these initial figures suggest.
Education planning for young people in the study appears to have been inconsistent. The Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) stipulates that schools should develop Individual Education Plans for all out-of-home care students. However, less than half of the young people in Beyond 18 had heard of Individual Education Plans and only 19% of young people reported that they had one.
Development of life skills
Helping young people develop independent living skills, and emotional and interpersonal skills has been identified as international best practice in transition planning. The results from Beyond 18 were mixed on this measure. Most carers and caseworkers provided support for young people in developing independent living skills, and young people in the study indicated that they were relatively confident about their practical life skills. The data relating to young people's psychological wellbeing or interpersonal skills were less positive. Although most young people responded positively to questions about their sense of felt security (i.e. their sense of belonging or of having someone in their life who cared about them), their survey results also suggested that many had significant emotional problems and peer relationship problems.
Services and supports
Service provision and referral to young care leavers also appeared to be uneven. Although many young people were able to access the services and supports they needed, others showed little awareness of what services were available and few young people had significant contact with leaving care services before they transitioned from out-of-home care. Over a third of young people in the study indicated that they had not been able to access all the services they needed when in care, with many indicating that they lacked help with mental health issues.
Caseworkers also indicated that there were important gaps in the service network and that these gaps hindered their ability to provide essential services to young people when they needed them. In particular, workers identified leaving care and mental health services as frequently having restrictive eligibility requirements, long waiting lists and a limited capacity to work with clients with high needs. These gaps were described as a serious barrier to workers' ability to help young people prepare for their post-care life.
Authors and Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful to the Research and Evaluation team, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) who have been a valuable support throughout this project.
The authors would also like to thank the following Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) staff members: Pauline Kenny and Sez Wilks for their work designing and establishing the study; Sez Wilson, Sam Morley, the CFCA and AIFS communications teams for their work on project communications and the AIFS IT team for their assistance with the online survey. We also thank Megan Carroll for her analysis of the survey data.
Our sincere thanks also go to the Beyond 18 Stakeholder Advisory Group and the Departmental Working Group for their input and advice on survey design and recruitment.
Finally, we thank Carers Victoria, the CREATE Foundation and the many youth support, homelessness, child protection, out-of-home care and leaving care workers and organisations who provided advice and assistance in promoting the study.
Views expressed in this report are those of the individual authors and may not reflect the views of the Australian Government, including the Australian Institute of Family Studies, or the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Featured image: © iStockphoto/YakobchukOlena
Muir, S. and Hand, K. (2018). Beyond 18: The Longitudinal Study on Leaving Care Wave 1 Research Report: Transition planning and preparation. (Research Report). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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