Preparing young people to leave care during COVID-19

Content type
Event date

27 May 2020, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Philip Mendes, Jacinta Waugh




This webinar was held on Wednesday 27 May 2020.

Young people leaving care face many challenges. We have explored these in past webinars, looking at young people’s experiences of leaving care and how they could be better supported by extending care. In the wake of COVID-19, there is growing concern that young people leaving care will face even greater challenges.

This webinar reflected on past CFCA presentations and current responses in considering what may help support young care leavers during this pandemic. Recognising the increased risks of social isolation and psychological stress, presenters discussed strategies to strengthen young people’s social capital and improve their social and emotional wellbeing.

This webinar is of interest to policy makers and practitioners working with young people across a range of sectors, including out-of-home care, aftercare, mental health, education, employment, homelessness and housing.

Audio transcript (edited)

MR MUIR: Hello everyone and welcome to today's webinar, preparing young people to leave care during COVID-19. My name's Stewart Muir, I'm the Executive Manager of the Family Policy and Practice Research Program at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

I'd like to start today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we're meeting, the AIFS office and here at my house in Melbourne. The traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri peoples and also the Bunurong peoples of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging and to the elders from other communities who may be participating today.

So today we're talking about young people in Australian's out of home care system and particularly those who are preparing to transition to adulthood. We'll be looking at a few general factors related to leaving care as well as some of the factors that make care leavers particularly vulnerable during events like COVID-19.

To help frame our discussion we'll also be playing some highlights from two webinars we hosted last year in 2019. So before I introduce today's presenters I wanted to acknowledge the contributors of these past presentations. So first up we'll be hearing from Paul McDonald, the CEO of Anglicare Victoria and chair of the Homestretch campaign. And he'll be helping to paint a picture of the out of home care system in Australia and how young people commonly experience leaving care and making the transition to adulthood. He'll also briefly explore what the Australian and international evidence tells us about extending care arrangements and we'll be using key sections of that same webinar delivered by Paul's co-presenter, Philip Mendes from Monash University. Philip's also joining us here day to give some further insights into context of COVID-19 but I'll come back to Philip and his proper introduction in a moment.

Finally, we'll be showing you some highlights of a webinar we hosted in July 2019 that was presented by myself, Stewart Muir and Jade Purtell. And in that webinar we discuss some of the key findings of the Beyond 18 study which examined young people's experiences of leaving out of home are in Victoria. Links to all of these presentations are now available on this webinar's event page as well as on the CFCA website.

So today's presenters. We're joined - we're very pleased to be joined by two eminent experts in the field; Philip Mendes and Jacinta Waugh. Philip is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University. Philip's been researching young people living in state care for over 20 years and today he'll be giving us a brief overview of recent national and international developments relating to the extension of care arrangements and highlighting some of those that have been particularly introduced in response to COVID-19.

Philip's colleague, Jacinta, works in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University as a teaching associate and she's completing her doctoral work examining the influence of informal social supports on the lives of young people leaving care. Jacinta is going to give us an overview of the concept of social capital in the context of leaving care and discuss some other more - some of the reasons why care leavers are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of restricted social contact as we've been experiencing recently.

After these presentations then Philip, Jacinta and I will talk about a little bit about the research, what the research says about how practitioners can support care leavers and help address - and how they might help address some of the vulnerabilities. So without ado we will now take a look back through some of the key learnings from the past webinars that I've just introduced.

MR McDONALD: Where I thought I'd go first, is what is out of- home care, and basically out of home care refers to statutory care of children and young people, who are unable to live with their parents; so children in out of home care are in most cases also on a care and protection order and may have been removed due to abuse, neglect, or relinquishment reasons.

Let's say there's around 50,000 young people who are in out of home care. Most of those are in foster care and kinship care with around 5 to 6 per cent who are in residential care, and about a third of those, a bit over a third, are children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

The target group between 15 and 17 years when the state normally sets about the process of exiting or terminating care. Swinburne University of Technology who did their national survey of homeless youth, found that 63 per cent of them were actually in state care historically and were now homeless. When you have a look at some of the other outcomes: 35 per cent had five or more places of stay in their first 12 months from leaving care; just under 30 per cent were unemployed; many of them were new parents; and also many, particularly the young men, just around forty-odd per cent had been involved in the juvenile justice system, again, within the first 12 months of the care being terminated.

43 per cent the AIFS report announced yesterday of 20 to 24 year olds, up from 36 per cent, are still in the family home. Goodness me. 17 per cent of 25 to 29 year olds are still in the family home. Yet in every state in Australia, legislatively speaking, care is to be terminated, ended, without discretion, without any discussion, at 18.

Now what does this in fact mean? Well, their workers are removed, all legal, physical, domestic support is then terminated. So what we've seen is West Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, and Northern Territory, all universally have their legislation that care is to be finished at 18 and all universally have their care planning requirements are required to begin with the child at 15. Now can you imagine going up to your own child at 15 and saying, 'Oh by the way, Johnny, we've got to get you a leaving care plan.' This is what the state does to children in state care; it requires them to have a care leaving plan at 15.

We went to Deloitte Access Economics and we asked them could they do a similar cost benefit study, state by state, and imagine if care was extended to 21, what would be the benefits? Interestingly the Commonwealth, who does not have jurisdiction over child welfare here in this country, they're paying 1.8 billion over the next 10 years if we continue to have care terminated at 18, that being costs in Centrelink payments, costs due to early pregnancies, cost in hospitalisation, you name it. So Deloitte Access Economics has found that if we do not extend care through to 21, the costs to the country will be 2.4 billion. 1.8 billion, the Commonwealth are picking up the cheque, and 0.6 billion or 600 million for the states and territories.

So Deloitte Access Economics said, on a cost benefit ratio, if we did implement the extended care, that is, if we allow the placement to continue through to 21, and on current figures – and this is on current figures if around 30 per cent of children who were in care took up the option. Now remember, and I'll just detour here a little bit, we're not arguing or suggesting that every child in state care should continue on to 21. Many will choose their own path. Many will say, 'Great, I can't wait to get out of here', and bang, off they go.

But for those who aren't ready, or for those, you know, seven months pregnant, those who've got court next week, those hopelessly unemployed, those on the spectrum order, those who are very well adjusted but aren't very independently ready, for all of those could we allow that option for them to remain? Deloitte Access Economics on the economic argument said that, in fact, there's a cost benefit return. There's a return on every one dollar; if the government invested one dollar into extending care, their return would be: New South Wales, $3.40; Queensland, $2.69; Tasmania, $2.69 – as the list goes on. It's all there in front of you. So there's a return on investment for governments. So not only is this producing good social return, but it's producing good economic return for state governments.

MR MENDES: Now historically, most countries are provided only limited leaving care or post-care support services, but over the last two decades there has been growing international awareness of the needs of care leavers and an expectation of ongoing care beyond 18 years of age. Consequently, most of the countries in the OECD and many other jurisdictions, have introduced new legislation or expanded existing laws, policies or programs to assist this group of young people.

Now, that upgraded assistance seems to reflect an increasing recognition that if the invasive state intervention into families by child protection systems is to be justified, then governments have both the moral and the legal obligation to devote sufficient resources to ensure that the outcomes for these rescue children are better than if they had remained with their family of origin. So in this webinar, we're specifically going to look at some of the extended care reforms in both England and the USA.

England introduced the Children Leaving Care Act 2000. That Act was intended, 'To improve the life chances of young people living in and leaving care, and to replicate the supports that responsible parents would be expected to provide for their children'. In short, the intention was to delay the transition from care until young people were both prepared and ready to leave. Now that new act in England produced a mixture of positive and negative results.

So one key policy response to those concerns was the introduction of a form of extended care in England known as the Staying Put program legislated as an ongoing duty on all local authorities in England from May 2014 in the Children and Families Act 2014. So that act required local authorities in England to facilitate, monitor, and support Staying Put arrangements for fostered young people until they reach the age of 21 where this is what they and their foster carers want unless the local authorities considers that the Staying Put arrangement is not consistent with the welfare of the young person.

The USA enacted the Fostering Connections Act in 2008 as a form of extended care which aimed to extend the Foster Care Independence Act by giving states the option of maintaining young people in foster care until 21 years of age. By early 2017, nearly half of all American states have taken up this option of extending care till 21 with federal financial support.

Now Professor Mark Courtney, a leading researcher in America, and his colleagues in California used a number of mixed methods in their evaluation of extended care in California, and they were able to report specific benefits of extended care such as the following: enhanced educational outcomes, improved earnings and less economic hardship, fewer earlier pregnancies, lower levels of homelessness, reduced mental health difficulties or involvement in the criminal justice system, and greater involvement of non-custodial fathers with their children.

Now Ian Matheson argues that extended care works for a number of clear reasons: because it offers continuity and stability to young people, a nurturing environment, it helps engagement in education, employment and training, it empowers young people, and it gives them greater choice and control over the timing and the process of their transition. The evidence does suggest that extended care in Australia should lead to improvements in the key areas like education and employment, housing, health, and reduced involvement in offending and criminal justice.

MR MUIR: The Beyond 18 study was commissioned by the Victorian Government and it was intended to help better understand some of the key factors of young people's experiences when they transitioned from out of home care. The main parts of the study were an online survey of young people who'd experienced care in Victoria and follow-up interviews with those young people. . In that survey, we asked them a bunch of different things about their experiences of transition planning, their relationships with workers, relationships with other people, service use, and a lot things about their lives in general, like accommodation, education, employment and health and welfare.

One of the things we found when we were talking to young people about their experiences of leaving care, is that we found that a lot of them had pretty patchy knowledge of the services and supports that were available to them or potentially available to them, and also pretty patchy knowledge of the transition process as a whole.

So only one in three, I think, knew whether they had a transition plan or not, and many of them didn't really know what was going to happen as they left. We also found that a lot of the young people in the study were leaving care with some indicators of pretty significant emotional or peer relationship issues, and they also had pretty low levels of education compared to other young people their age. After they left care, so in the first 12 months or so, after they left state care, we found that they had some pretty complex housing patterns. So people moved a lot, they moved between different houses or different types of accommodation, and between different sort of accommodation types; so between private rentals, transitional housing and the like.

We also found an association between their housing type and their participation in education or employment. So young people who were studying or working, are the most likely to be living with former carers or living with partners. And in contrast, young people who weren't working or studying, were the most likely to be living in transitional housing.

We also found that they very low levels of income. Less than half the study was earning any money from employment, and of those who were earning money from employment, I think about two thirds of those were in part-time employment, and a lot of them had experienced some form of financial distress, such as going without meals.

MS PURTELL: In the qualitative interviews, many young people stated that they had limited social networks. This was a cause of distress for many participants in the interviews, many of whom indicated that they felt isolated and alone, although some reported ongoing relationships with former carers, others had lost contact or were wary of over-burdening former carers or friends with their problems or support needs.

So social relationship problems had a range of underlying causes, like previous trauma and neglect, plus developmental and behavioural issues, but these are exacerbated by high mobility, like with placement and school changes, issues with conflict or bullying, especially in residential care or at school or in workplaces. There was a strong theme of the stigma of being in care and the lack of a normal socialisation was mentioned by many of the participants. Particular issues for young people from residential care included having limited opportunities to build extended social networks or engage in social life while in out of home care.

Consistency and continuity were highly valued and were described as enabling young people to build relationships of trust and to gain access to support services. Conversely, inconsistent support or frequent changes of workers, was described as hindering young people's ability to develop social skills or to access supports. One young woman who'd lived in residential care explained how being in care can lead to isolation or how our systems can get in the way of relationships.

She says, 'From my experience of residential care, I feel like it's really funny, 'cause we always talk about how every resi kid knows every other resi kid, but at the same time, you've very isolated with like the outside world, you just know your services' So in their accounts, many young people hankered after more personal or flexible relationships with out of home care and leaving care workers. They placed a higher value on good relationships than on people that they could see or speak to outside of a formal setting. This was especially true for those who'd been in residential care

MR MUIR: Okay, after watching those videos and leading into reflections and discussion with Philip and Jacinta, we'd just like you to keep in mind some the key points from those past presentations. One of those is that even before the current situation with COVID-19 care leavers or young people preparing to leave care were already an especially vulnerable group often with limited social supports or social networks.

And this is clear in the education, employment, housing and economic outcomes and in young care leavers' accounts of feeling unprepared to transition from care. We've also heard about some of the emerging international evidence that, the potential benefits of extending care arrangements as well about the importance of social networks and the benefit of more consistent and continuous relationships with care workers.

This last point suggests that practitioners are both a part of the social support system for many young people in care as well as afterwards as well as being potentially in a business to help young people, to strengthen or leverage their social supports. Today we're discussing this in the context of COVID-19 but obviously a lot of what Philip and Jacinta will be speaking about will also have relevance and resonance in practice with care leavers more generally.

So I'd like to now pass to Philip who will be talking about some of these issues specifically in relation to the current COVID-19 situation. So thank you, Philip.

MR MENDES: Thank you, Stewart. Hello everybody. So to begin with current post 18 year support in Australian jurisdictions is discretionary, not mandatory. So that contrasts with post 18 supports in the USA, UK and New Zealand. We might come back to that later. But the Home Stretch advocacy campaign has resulted in four states trialling forms of extended care. Both Tasmania and South Australia are funding foster care placements until 21 years of age. Western Australia commenced a trial program supporting about 20 young people in May 2019 and Victoria introduced a pilot program in May 2018 supporting 250 young people over five years whether transitioning from foster care, residential care or kinship care.

Additionally the ACT introduced an earlier program, in 2014, providing financial and case work assistance to care leavers until 25 years of age. The other three jurisdictions, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland have not introduced extended care programs to date. Now the trials in those five states and territories have been informed by positive findings from extended care programs in the UK, USA and Canada and there are probably three main points coming out of those evaluations. One being that more gradual transitions influenced by stable and supportive ongoing relationships lead to housing stability. Two, there is greater engagement in education and employment. And three, there is reduced homelessness, early pregnancy, involvement in the criminal justice system and economic hardship.

So what are the particular learnings for Australia from elsewhere? Again, there are probably three main points. One being that extended care needs to utilise inclusive, not exclusive criteria. So that we're not just supporting those young people with initial positive transitions who are committed to and engaged with education and/or employment. Secondly, extended care should incorporate all forms of out of home care including residential care. And thirdly, extended care in Australia must address the specific cultural needs of indigenous care leavers who make up about one third of the total leaving care cohort nationally.

Now COVID-19 has reinforced arguments for extended care internationally. A number of international jurisdictions, for example British Columbia and Ontario in Canada. And four, American states, California, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island have extended care until at least the end of 2020. And those jurisdictions are providing the same level of support involving housing, education and finances. And social workers are involved in proactively contacting young people to ensure they take up that support.

The CREATE Foundation locally have indicated that most Australian jurisdictions have pledged some form of extended support during COVID-19. Most notably Victoria have formally assured that extended care supports will be available to those who turn 18 between March this year and December 2020 until June 2021. So those extended care supports in Victoria involve a carer or housing allowance, flexible funding and case work support.

Now those additional supports or arrangements during COVID-19 address a number of particular concerns. Firstly we know that many care leavers face particular risks of social isolation, due to social distancing requirements. Additionally many lack support from family or community connections as noted by the Beyond 18 study and may rely heavily on professional workers. Some of the young people have mental health concerns due to traumatic childhoods. There has actually been a very interesting online survey conducted in America recently of 18 to 23 year olds in/or leaving foster care which found as a result of COVID-19 many of this cohort experienced unstable housing and food insecurity. Lost regular employment and income and no longer had access to educational supports.

So there is clearly a high need to transform in-person contacts to online and social media contacts so that their material needs, example access to food and other essential goods, including medication and housing. Their educational needs and their emotional needs are met. Peer support networks for example, via the wonderful CREATE Foundation, may be absolutely vital for their wellbeing. And we need to monitor and assess the support needs of all groups of care leavers, ranging from those who might be characterised as having particularly positive transitions. For example currently studying at university or TAFE to equally those who might be characterised as just surviving, i.e. those who are currently homeless or in prison.

I will now hand over to Jacinta Waugh who will talk about the major importance of social capital and associated support networks to support care leavers during COVID-19.

MS WAUGH:: Thanks Philip that's great. Right, so my study on the informal supported networks for young people, or the purpose of the social capital essentially was on the individual level. The individual in their community, a young person in their community. So I interviewed care leavers between the ages of 18 to 26 and people within their informal network with a young person nominated as important to them. I wanted to see how social capital and social support may assist in the gradual transition from state care to out of (indistinct) for care leavers. So this slide shows the overall conceptual framework which seeks to examine how social resources may assist in the gradual transition for care leavers or in this time of COVID-19 to assist in reducing social isolation.

That has three critical elements, the types of social support on the left-hand side, these refer to a type of help that is available or provided, example the emotional, practical, informational and so on. And then there are concepts of social capital access, facilitation and function. Now the social, in social capital is that it is ingrained in social, in the structure of social relations. The capital is it functional and access dimensions, it provides people with access to valuable resources that contribute to their wellbeing.

And the developmental and environmental resources on the right-hand side, these originate and are adapted from the Victorian, Looking After Children framework. As well as other leaving care literature. So imagine these types of support and social capital in areas of need are familiar to many of you today, so I won't explain them all. But I would like to briefly go over how social capital is being applied because this speaks to how we can apply it in our work with care leavers now in this time of COVID-19.

So social capital can be defined but the ability to efficiently help individuals to access resources through other people in the network. A major function of social capital is its capacity to facilitate certain actions of the individuals within the network structure. And this is reciprocal, reciprocity is a key social capital function in which individuals give and receive and return over time. And bonding capital is when people know each other well and have a strong connection. Bridging capital is when people horizontally connect to new people or new ideas. Bonding capital assists people to get by. And bridging capital assists people to get ahead. And the engine capital is when people are vertically connected to sources of power. That also helps people to get ahead.

So these notions of getting by or getting ahead are conceptually suggested of building care leavers resilience and helping them progress what could be characteristically termed, a moving-on position. As they help the care leavers to gain access to very important developmental and environmental resources. As you can see on this slide. So there are many activities and resources that fall under these major types of developmental and environmental resources that will help the care leaver to get by or get ahead. And we can talk about these in a minute.

So these concepts of social capital and social support can be used formally. For example it can underpin policy responses and at the service and practice level it is used by professionals who work with young people, who work with people, young people leaving care. While specialist support is a type of formal social capital and critical for care leavers, they're not always available. So informal social capital and supports become an important role for the worker to engage with the young person's social network, family, other caring adults and peers. And unleash what can contribute to the terms of care and support. And we can do this by the ecomap as a tool and I'll talk about that in a minute.

But what I do want to actually say to you about some of the strategies that we can look at, particularly now are the strategies of adult and peer support. So with my – in my study the young person nominated, people who are important to them, sometimes they nominate a formal carer or casual respite carer. And these initially are engineered for that in terms of statutory carers you know, over time evolved into something more natural. But some young people also nominate peer relationships such as friends and partners.

So – and some young people inadvertently would talk about assistance from other people in their network as well, for instance I had one young participant who tried returning home and, after leaving care. He was about 18 when he returned home and after a week, their parent called the police to move him out again. And this actually happened and he was left on a train platform at midnight. This young person was resourceful and he rang his basketball coach and they came and took him home to their place. And he was able to stay there until he was ready to leave. So that was a person in his network that supported him and a caring adult.

I had another young person who was able to stay with their foster carer post the official ending of their guardianship. And this support was actually very good for this young person and in fact they had home as a secure base. So if that young person wants to leave and then, she missteps or makes a mistake she's got a place to return to. So during this time of COVID-19 this young person has the family support, not unlike many of her non-care state peers.

So it brings into question why care leavers are a group of people particularly vulnerable to the isolated effects of COVID-19 as this is an example that demonstrates a very good social capital provided while in care. And it's continuation to replicate the nurturing and the positive side of familial social capital. The first case exemplified something quite different. They couldn't rely on their family. So for many care leavers there has been no - their parents as a form of vertical relation support has not worked out for them. And what this research shows is that the negative experiences are acutely felt due to many care leavers idealised perception of these relationships improving once they leave care.

So the corona virus restriction rules while being necessary, also served to exacerbate this already compounding psychological effect. And also Werner & Smith have also actually said that a steadfast and caring relationship with at least one adult is a protective factor for children and young people. So when we're looking at, we're conceptualising this sort of care for the meanings of social capital, we can see the value, the relevance of the everyday care worker who deal with young people. And the strategy is for organisations possibly may have adult volunteers that could help to develop online and phone support for the young people.

Another – when you talk about peer support, I had another young person who actually talked about a friend of theirs who actually gave them a lot of support. But this support also is reciprocal. So the person that I – the two young people that I interviewed they very much used bonding and reciprocity, social capital in their friendship. And that's what friendship is all about. But often this concept, it's a quite important concept because it often goes unacknowledged. And we need to, I think, make it quite visible that these small cumulative actions of positive bonding and reciprocity capital is very important to young people so they can see that they too, are active agents in their social network. That they're not, just passive recipients of someone else's benevolence. That they are thoughtful members of their own social network, giving, receiving and returning over time.

So peer, you know Philip has actually talked about peer support groups, online support groups, what actually works so young people can be supported. To establish buddy systems is a good strategy with their peers, to keep in touch, check over each other's wellbeing and health and provide the support as necessary. So continuing on, how do we find out who these people are? Now some of you may know about ecomaps and you may work with ecomaps as a matter of routine in your work. So it's a drawing a technique that enables workers to depict social and family relationships. It is commonly used for assessment planning and intervention. And originally used as a focus for family relations, it has expanded to other social relations.

So its visual power brings into sharp relief the connections, themes and quality of a young person's life and leads to a more holistic insight that you can contribute in terms of caring and support. So we're not solely concentrating on the young person or formal services to find answers. We can also start relying on care generated by perhaps other family members who they get on with, or other persons in their network. It's quite a practical tool. So at the centre a worker places a young persons' name and then draws lines representing the connections with people and activities that a young person may do. You ask about the different types of social resources, like family or significant others, friends, clubs, sports, to find out who's in their network.

It's strengths based, being mindful of potential inner and outer resources. By inner I mean their psychological, emotional perhaps, spiritual resources and the outer are the more practical, financial, informational supports. It's import to reinforce the representations of relationships with different lines as they tell you about the quality and the intensity of the relationship. A thick line represents important, positive connections. A thinner line, a mutual connection. A cross-hatch line depicts stress or conflict. A dotted line a tenuous relationship and an arrow or double arrow, pointed arrow tells you about the flow of resources, the energy or the interest in relationship.

And just very quickly I had another example (I'll go in there) there is an example of a pretend one that I did, just to sort of show you what it could look like. As you can see the young person has a strong - directional relationship with their cousin in this depiction. And a strong relationship with a mentor and a stressful relationship with their brother. But finally I just want to give you some other sort of practical ways. And the next couple of slides, these slides actually come from Victoria, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare. It's a peak body here in Victoria and they gathered a lot of information from leading key specialists of the different sorts of practical things that we can do in this time, during COVID-19.

So there are you know, we now know that of course, we're able to go out and take walks with clients, we can have conversations in the driveway, we can be using the technology, like phone. If we have a meeting with a young person over Skype maybe we can actually order some pizzas or order some food to have that meeting with. Food, health and nutrition, another very important resources for young people. There's things that we can do there with e-vouchers for supermarkets. We can drop off food, we can do food delivery with recipes for them to cook. We can make care hampers for young people that include the necessities and treats and there's emergency relief vouchers.

And what I'm saying here is that once we actually properly know who's in that young person's network, maybe we could be talking to those people to find out if they can be given the sort of support. Particularly if professionals are not available at this time to give this sort of support. So – and there's more in the way of learning, laptops, dongles, the Internet is very important at this point in time. Making sure that young people have phone credit for their phones or needing to buy phones for them. There's activities that are very important for young people to do, particularly with exercise, or maybe getting out into the garden. Or maybe even with things like music. There's streaming subscriptions and there's also, if people, young people have got interests in books or art supplies. Dropping these things off for them.

So there's a lot of very practical things that we can do and this is the last slide. What's very important of course is that financial and practical support at this time. And there's some really sort of good examples there of taxi vouchers maybe, online vouchers and that last one, going back to that ecomap is you know, particularly if you find that young people do have to self-isolate that we're trying to find out in their social network, maybe who in the neighbourhood or who of their friends can help them out with things like shopping or getting medications. Right thank you.

MR MUIR: It was muted there.

FEMALE VOICE: Yeah we can hear you now.

MR MUIR: I was just going to say thank you for those reflections Philip and Jacinta. Before we go to the audience and take some of the audience questions, we please do invite you to have them. I have a few questions just to open up the discussion a little bit or to allow you to expand on some of what you said. So for Philip, you've spoken both in your past presentation and today about the benefits of extending care. I wondered if you could say a little bit more about what the specific effects of extending care or the specific benefits of extending care are for the wellbeing of care leavers in this current context? I mean what would extending care do for the young people leaving care in the context of COVID-19?

MR MENDES: Well Stewart the particular benefit is that we know at a time of social distancing that people overwhelmingly have been relying on family members close to them. So with restrictions on travelling, to buy food, to access leisure, to see friends, see networks, people have really been bunkering down if you like. And relying if they live with mum and dad or live with their partner or their children, those close family members have been more and more important to them.

Now most care leavers don't have that family support. They either don't have it all or they don't have it close to them geographically or they don't have positive support. So the ability to access other forms of support has been more important than ever. And I guess notwithstanding the point Jacinta has made, that overwhelmingly young people who leave care with good support networks, that is informal support networks, not necessarily family or extended family but people from sporting groups, cultural groups, friends from school. Maybe religious groups, all sorts of groups overwhelmingly they do better in their transition.

But we do know that some young people leave care with very few, if any of those supports. So in that current environment the ability to access professional supports whether it be a leaving care worker or it could be a mental health counsellor or it could be someone helping them with their continued or further education. That has become more and more important and of course then there is also that fundamental need around material support. One being, actually being able to get food which of course has been a challenge for everybody at times, in terms of getting to supermarkets, getting beyond panic buying.

And then the other side of that of course, being access to housing which has been a massive issue for some people, either retaining current housing or getting stable housing if they didn't have it in the first place. So they are major areas that would've become harder for some care leavers in the current environment.

MR MUIR: And Jacinta I wondered if you could maybe talk about some of the possible, I suppose effects of extending care on young people's social capital? I mean, whether that's in the current context or just more generally?

MS WAUGH:: The extent of extending care?


MS WAUGH:: Yeah well to me that is actually extending their social capital. I welcome that legislation. What my – what the research that I've actually done and what it says is that when those young people have been invited to actually stay with their formal carer, it's those young people in the group of participants that I interviewed – I interviewed nine participants who (indistinct words) people that in fact their social capital with the bonding, the bridging, the mix of their social support of information support, emotional support and mixing that with their social capital. They're the people that were in fact doing very, very well. They were often at university or they had work, they had a good network of friends around them. They had been learning about progressive responsibility, they were – the extended care as a model I think is actually very important because it's extending the (indistinct word) the classic form of the informal social capital, nurturing social capital we've certainly had good support of families, positive family supports. And that's what the research, my research was showing.

Those young people where they said to me that the most important person may have been a friend who may have been in care themselves, there, I must say, they will struggle a little bit more than the other people in - research. They – and they often in fact had to get more support from formal organisations and professionals.

MR MUIR: Okay thank you. We have a number of questions coming in and time is now running short. So I might now throw to some of the audience questions. The first is really a sort of practical question for Jacinta which is, if you could 'Clarify the difference between an ecomap and a genogram?'

MS WAUGH:: Yes, okay so a genogram is usually where you are looking at a person's family. And it's usually three generations of that family. So it's a little bit like a family tree. That's what a genogram is. So you may have mum, dad and then the kids and up there you may have your grandparents. So you usually actually have three generations. Now often that genogram can be part of an ecomap. The ecomap is lie – the eco is short for ecological, ecological systems theory. And that – with that essentially you're showing more of the relationship of that person or that family with their environment around them. And that's the social environment, it could be the bio – psycho environment, it could be the spiritual environment. And it could be the environment like health and employment as well. But what I was showing you today was a simpler version of just when you're looking at a – if you've got a young person in front of you and if you just sort of want to know who's in their social network, particularly in the informal social network.

MR MUIR: Okay thank you. I have a question for Philip here from the audience. The audience person was asking 'Whether extending care effects relationships with birth parents?' Whether it makes, you know, those kind of relationships more difficult or whether there's any benefits to that?

MR MENDES: That's a good question which I don't think the literature has thought a lot about Stewart. My hunch would be that, you know in the ideal world young people would return to live with birth parents when they leave care. And in some cases that does work and it works out well. In other cases it happens and it doesn't work out very well at all. So generally when we talk about young people that might get to 18 and leave care at that point and move into independent living. So they're not going to live with a parent or a close family member, I would think that the most – the important things in their life are the supportive networks they've had up until they're 18. The key support networks, whether that be a foster carer or another carer, or other key people in their life as Jacinta has talked about.

So I think, certainly I don't think it would hurt their relationship with their birth parents but it would necessarily impact significantly. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cohort there may be some unique circumstances operating there. Particularly as we know that many of that cohort, when they leave care may return to remote or rural communities or family's a long way from where they were placed in care. So in some ways having that extension of care and certainly that option of having financial support extended, can be a, probably a real positive in enabling them to return to their own communities and see whether that arrangement can work out for them.

MR MUIR: Okay thank you. That kind of, in part brings me onto another question for you Philip which and potential Jacinta too. We've had a couple of questions asking about 'How might practitioners approach working with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities?' I guess, particularly in respect to COVID-19 and in some remote communities where there are, you know, particularly strict restrictions on entry. How can those communities or young people in those communities be given support or help to build their social capital?

MR MENDES: Look I think there's a few issues there that are emanating a bit from the current national study we're conducting on indigenous young people leaving care. I mean, one particular need of that group is to retain and expand their cultural and community connections and identity. And that does mean really before they leave care, how important it is for connections to be established for them with broader communities, with mentors, with Aboriginal community controlled organisations. That is irrespective of whether they're returning to a family or community of that background.

In the current circumstances whether it is practical for say, someone who's been placed in a city or a big regional city, to return to a more remote or rural community I guess is debatable given the issues you raise. But I think if we're talking generally, that preparation to potentially return to community in country, is something for that cohort that needs to be a major part of any leaving care plan. And that plan is not only about linking that young person to organisations, it's also about examining what is happening in those communities and whether something can be done, resource wise, program wise to address issues that led to those young people going into care in the first place. Because the reality is, whether it's happening, COVID-19 or not, it would be happening generally, that many of the young people are returning to those communities. But there is a situation there, probably unchanged from when they were removed. So that seems to me to be a part of leaving care planning and post care planning that there has been very little if any attention given to so far.

MR MUIR: I'm afraid we're running out of time here, we did have a number of other questions, most of which we'll be able to put on the forum, so please keep an eye out for that. And finally I'd really like to say thank you Philip and Jacinta and to everyone for attending today. As we continue to monitor the situation with Corona virus please keep an eye out for CFC newsletters for updates and future webinars. And with that I thank you all for joining us.

MR MENDES: Bye, bye.

MS WAUGH:: Thank you.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

1. Preparing young people to leave care during COVID-19

Philip Mendes and Jacinta Waugh 
CFCA Webinar 
27 May 2020

2. Overview of today’s webinar

  • Highlights from past webinars
    • Extending care: Supporting young people’s transition from out-of-home care to adulthood 
      Paul McDonald and Philip Mendes 
      15 May 2019
    • Young people's experiences of leaving care and their support needs: Recent research and promising practices 
      Stewart Muir, Jade Purtell and Lou Limoges 
      24 July 2019
  • Update on recent developments (Philip Mendes)
  • Strategies to strengthen young people’s social capital (Jacinta Waugh)
  • Conversation and Q&A session

3. Housekeeping

  • Send through your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.
  • Let us know if you don’t want your question published on the online forum following the presentation.
  • All our webinars are recorded.
  • The slides are available in the handout section of GoToWebinar.
  • The audio and transcript will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

4. An overview of extending care in Australia

Webinar highlights, 15 May 2019 
Paul McDonald

5. What is ‘Out of Home’ care? 

Out of Home care refers to statutory care of children and young people who are unable to live with their parents. Children in Out of Home care are, in most cases, also on a care and protection order.

There were 46,450 (17% increase since June 2012) children and young people in Out of Home care across Australia as at June 2016.

Alt text: This slide shows two pie graphs. The first shows the difference in percentage between children in residential care or group homes (6.4%) compared to children living in foster or kinship care (93.6%). The second graph highlights the high percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care (36.2% or 16,846) of all children in care in Australia at June 2016.

6. 3,000 young people between the ages of 15-17 years are exited from state care each year in Australia

Bar graph showing the number of 15-17 years that leave state care each year by state

  • NSW - 1,159
  • Vic. - 806
  • Qld - 566
  • WA - 207
  • SA - 205
  • Tas. and NT - 61 each
  • ACT - 59

7. What happens to young people leaving care in the first 12 months? 

Five pie charts that show what happens to young people leaving care in the first 12 months.

Pie chart 1: indicates that, according Swinburne University of Technology report published in 2015, 63% of homeless youth have a state care history.

Pie chart 2: 35% of care leavers lived in 5 or more location in the first 12 months.

Pie chart 3: 22% females and 46% males leaving care were involved with the justice system in the first 12 months.

Pie chart 4: 29% were unemployed, compared to the national average of 9.7%

Pie chart 5: 28% were already parents.

8. Whilst 85% of 18 – 21 year olds in Australia are still at home (HILDA) 

A pie chart shows that 85% of young people aged 18–21 years are still living at home with one or both parents.

9. All states and territories terminate care to the young person before they turn 18 

Map of Australia showing the states and territories' arrangements for ending care for young people

NT, WA, SA, Tas., NSW, ACT, Vic., - Exit care at 18. Planning exit begins at 15.

Qld - Exit care at 18. Planning exit begins at 14 years 11 months.

10. What are the costs and benefits state by state, if care were extended to age 21 in Australia

Alt text: Slide shows three front covers of cost benefit analysis reports by Deloitte Access Economics that have been published over recent years.

11. Deloitte Access Economics: 

Current Financial Impact

The financial impact of the current cohort of care leavers aged 18 to 21 years due to higher usage of government services is estimated to be $1.8 billion for the Commonwealth Government and $0.6 billion for the state and territory governments over the next 10 years, giving a total impact of $2.4 billion.

Alt text: Pie chart showing the difference in cost to the states and commonwealth of care leavers: state and territory costs are depicted as a little less than a quarter of the pie chart, compared to the cost to the Commonwealth that is depicted as more than three quarters of the pie chart.

12. Deloitte Access Economics:

National Cost Benefit Ratio

This is a table of cost benefit ratio by state and territory.

The following shows the cost benefit ratio return on $1 invested by jurisdiction:

  • NSW - 3.40
  • QLD and Tas. - 2.69
  • WA - 2.17
  • NT - 1.94
  • Vic. - 1.84
  • ACT - 1.77
  • SA - 1.40
  • Federal - 2.00

13. An overview of extending care in England and USA

Webinar highlights, 15 May 2019 
Philip Mendes 
14. Support needs of care leavers

In general, care leavers:

  • have not received ongoing and holistic support needed to transition successfully into adulthood
  • experience shorter transitions to adulthood than their non-care peers
  • face significant barriers to education, employment and housing

In most other countries:

  • there has been limited leaving care or post-care support services
  • there is a growing awareness of the needs of care leavers and expectation of ongoing care beyond 18 years

15. International developments

Children Leaving Care Act (England) 
Intended to delay the transition from care until young people are prepared and ready to leave

Fostering Connections Act (USA) 
Gives states the option of maintaining young people in foster care until 21 years. Requires young people to participate in education or employment

Child and Families Act (England) 
Staying Put Program legislated in part 5 of the Act - Welfare of Children (98)

2008↔ 2011 
Staying Put Program 
Piloted 2008–2011 in 11 local authorities. Requires local authorities to support care arrangements until age 21 (unless it is not consistent with the young person’s welfare)

16. International evidence for extending care

International evidence base for extending care shows (Matheson, 2018):

  • consistent positive outcomes in education, reduced criminal justice involvement, housing stability and more positive transitioning overall
  • varied outcomes for income, delayed pregnancies and engagement with training/employment

Extended care works because it:

  • offers continuity and stability, and a nurturing environment
  • helps engagement in education, employment and training
  • gives young people greater choice and control over the timing and process of their transition.

17. Lessons for Australia

Extended care should lead to:

  • improved education and employment
  • improved housing
  • improved health
  • reduced involvement in offending and criminal justice system.

Effective implementation requires:

  • detailed planning
  • sufficient funding
  • ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

18. Key findings from the Beyond 18 study

Webinar highlights, 24 July 2019 
Stewart Muir and Jade Purtell

19. The Beyond 18 study

  • Commissioned by Victorian Department of Health and Human Services
  • Aimed to understand young people’s transition from out-of-home care
  • Main components:
    • Survey of young people with an OOHC experience
    • Qualitative interviews with young people who participated in the survey

20. The Survey of Young People

  • Three waves of an online survey (2015−18)
  • Asked young people about:
    • transition planning
    • relationships with workers and other people
    • service use
    • education
    • employment
    • accommodation
    • health and welfare.

21. Snapshot of in-care experiences

Before leaving care, young people in the study had:

  • limited knowledge of transition plans and available services or funding
  • high levels of emotional and peer relationship problems
  • low levels of educational attainment:
    • 1 in 4 school leavers had completed Year 12
    • 1 in 4 had not completed Year 10.

22. Snapshot of post-care outcomes

After leaving care, young people in the study:

  • moved between housing at high rates
  • were less likely to be working or studying if living in transitional housing
  • had low incomes
    • less than half of care leavers earned wages
    • more than 70% lived below the Henderson Poverty line
    • high levels of financial stress (e.g. missing meals)
  • continued low educational achievement (only 1 in 4 had finished Year 12).

23. Young people’s social supports

  • Many young people indicated they:
    • had limited social networks
    • felt isolated and alone.
  • Some were wary of over-burdening others (former carers or peers) with their problems or support needs.

24. Community and social networks

‘… living in a structured home meant missing out on daily school attendance, social outings and fitting in with others. I always and still do stand out.’

‘There were lots of people always doing paperwork for me and about me, but no one was ever able to take me to do fun things.’

‘I never invite friends over because it’s embarrassing. I feel different when everyone talks about things with their parents when I don't get to see mine.’

25. Young people’s service use

  • Among care leavers:
  • less than half had contact with leaving care services in the first 12 months
  • half had received funding for leaving care services
  • many indicated they needed additional support when leaving care with
    • education
    • budgeting
    • emotional support and mental health
  • many did not know what services were available
  • many indicated that consistent relationships with workers were crucial.

26. Conversation with Philip and Jacinta

27. Preparing young people to leave care during COVID-19

CFCA Webinar 
27 May 2020 
Philip Mendes and Jacinta Waugh

28. The format of the presentation

  • Extended care trials
  • COVID-19 has reinforced arguments for extending care.
  • Overall conceptual framework of social capital and social support
  • Strategies to maximise care leavers social support and social capital in this time of COVID-19:
    • Adult and peer support
    • Ecomaps
    • Creative strategies from Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

29. Extended care trials

  • Current post-18 years support in Australian jurisdictions is discretionary, not mandatory.
  • Home Stretch advocacy campaign and trials
  • Trials informed by positive findings from extended care programs in the UK, USA and Canada
  • Specific implications for Australia

30. Covid-19 has reinforced arguments for extending care

  • Care leavers face particular risks of social isolation due to social distancing.
  • Many lack support from family or community connections, and rely on professional workers.
  • Some have mental health issues due to traumatic childhoods.
  • There is a high need to transform in-person contacts to online and social media contacts so that their material (e.g. access to food and other essential goods including medication and housing) and emotional needs are met.
  • Peer support networks (e.g. via the CREATE Foundation) may be vital for their wellbeing.
  • Need to monitor and assess the support needs of all groups of care leavers ranging from those who are successful (e.g. studying at university) to those who are surviving (i.e. homeless or in prison).

31. Conceptual framework

Informal Supportive Relationships

An individual in the network helps the care leaver with: →

Social Support

  • Emotional
  • Esteem
  • Appraisal
  • Practical
  • Informational
  • Companionate

And facilitates these actions through: →

Social capital

  • Bonding
  • Bridging
  • Linking
  • Reciprocity
  • Norms of expectations
  • Effective sanctions of norms

To meet need or gain access to: →


  • Emotional & behavioural development
  • Family & social relationships
  • Identity
  • Social presentation
  • Specific self-care and independent living skills


  • Income
  • Housing
  • Education and training
  • Employment
  • Health

To experience care and social connectedness akin to their non-state care counterparts

To build resilience and reduce isolation: To ‘get by’ and ‘get ahead’

(Barerra, 1986; Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; DHS, 2012; Gottlieb & Bergen, 2010; Lepore, 2012; Okpych et al., 2012; Putman, 1995; 2000; Woolcock & Nayaran, 2000)

32. Strategies: Adult and peer support

  • The nominated support person was sometimes a former carer or casual respite carer; nominated peer relationships such as friends or partners.
  • Steadfast and caring relationship with at least one adult is a protective factor for children and young people (Werner & Smith, 1992).
  • Caring adults can play a crucial role offering practical support, guidance and mentorship. Organisations may have volunteers that could help to develop online and phone support and expand their reach.
  • Online support through moderated app groups, where young people could be supported to establish ‘buddy systems’ with their peers to keep in touch, check over each other’s wellbeing, health, and provide support as necessary.
  • The work we do with young people leaving care is no different really to how we take care of our own families and friends.

33. Constructive strategies: Ecomap

An ecomap depicts sources of conflict and support for the client, represented by shapes connected by different types of lines.

–––– important or positive connection

–––– neutral connection

#### indicates stress or conflict

- - - - - a tenuous relationship

→ the direction or flow of resources, energy or interest

↔ bi-directional flow of resources or energy

Adapted from Lewis, M., New Directions in Social Work; accessed 25.05.2020

34. Eco mapping with the individual

Text description:

Young person has important or positive connections with their aunt and uncle, sports coach, step-sister and ex-carer 
Young person has a neutral connection with their mentor and close friend 
Young person indicates stress or conflict with their brother and friends from school 
Young person has a tenuous relationship with spiritual activities 
Young person has a flow of resources, energy or interest with their ex-carer 
Young person has bi-directional flow of resources or energy with cousin, and movie nights/watching footy

Adapted from Hartman, 1978.

35. Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare: Creative strategies to support and engage with young people during COVID-19


  • Taking walks with clients and meeting in open spaces/parks (considering social distancing + activity and fresh air)
  • Conversations from the driveway
  • Conversations by phone, text, Skype, Zoom and other digital/video platforms
  • Ordering delivery of pizza for young people and workers to eat while talking to each other through an online meeting.

Food, health and nutrition:

  • Food e-vouchers from supermarkets
  • Drop off food supplies and other essentials in driveway/ mailboxes
  • Food delivery with recipes, learning to cook (can stop any time)
  • ‘Care Hampers’ to young people that include necessities and treats!
  • Emergency relief vouchers.

36. Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare: Creative strategies to support and engage with young people during COVID-19 part 2

Learning (Education)

  • Laptops, tablets, dongles and internet access (secondary school and TAFE)
  • Phones, data and phone credit
  • Young people sharing (virtually) with other young people what they have been doing and enjoying – craft, knitting, cooking – a book they liked.


  • Gaming consoles
  • Gym equipment and exercise items (weights, kettle bells, yoga)
  • Craft and gardening items – planting herbs (something practical)
  • Online music lessons (singing)
  • Streaming subscriptions
  • Books and art supplies (dropping off).

37. Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare: Creative strategies to support and engage with young people during COVID-19 part 3

Other financial and practical support

  • Paying rent and/or utility bills/purchasing whitegoods
  • Taxi vouchers so young people can travel to and from necessary appointments and to shop
  • Online vouchers
  • Find out who in the neighbourhood or friends could help them with shopping, getting medications, etc.

38. Question time

39. Continue the conversation…

Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar.

Related resources

Related resources


Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit (SISPRU) in the Department of Social Work at Monash University. Philip has been researching young people leaving state care for 20 years. He is the Australian representative on the Transitions to Adulthood for Young People Leaving Public Care International Research Group and has completed major studies pertaining to youth justice, employment and mentoring programs, disability and Indigenous care leavers. He is currently leading a national study of Indigenous young people leaving care funded by the Sidney Myer Foundation.

Philip has authored/co-authored 12 books including, most recently, Young People Transitioning from Out-of-Home Care: International Research, Policy and Practice, co-edited with Pamela Snow (2016), the third edition of Australia’s Welfare Wars (2017) and Empowerment and Control in the Australian Welfare State: A Critical Analysis of Australian Social Policy Since 1972 (2018). Prior to entering academia, Philip was a child protection worker in Victoria in 1987—88 and again from 1992—95.

Jacinta Waugh works in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University as a Teaching Associate. She is completing her doctoral study examining the influence of informal social supports on the lives of young people leaving state out-of-home care.

As a practising social worker, Jacinta has extensive experience working in the fields of income security, community health, youth homelessness, family support and counselling, in addition to research and policy. Her professional interest and research expertise is in working with disadvantaged young people. As a social researcher, Jacinta has worked on several projects including: Enhancing support for young people receiving the Centrelink homeless income and an independent evaluation of the compulsory income management trial in Shepparton.