The Victorian Government has faced its fair share of criticism during the course of this year, but it's now being hailed a hero by many for making significant reforms to out of home care, with a view to better supporting vulnerable and marginalised young people.
The move has been described as the most 'significant reform to child welfare in a generation' with the state set to become the first jurisdiction to announce universal care for young people in out of home care until they reach the age of 21 years.
Now the precedent is being set, other states and territories are being urged to do the same.
From January 2021, under the $64 million Home Stretch scheme, young people living in Victoria in 'out of home' care (otherwise known as foster care, kinship care, or residential care) will continue to receive full support until they turn 21 years of age.
Increased support leads to better life outcomes
This gives young people time, and options - to remain living with their foster carers in a kinship arrangement, or to find their own independent accommodation.
Across the nation, foster care arrangements are legislated by state and territory. Typically,
When a young person turns 18, the State or Territory government withdraws all formal support: including financial support, case workers, counselling services and benefits for foster and kinship carers.
This is simply because under Australian law, once a young person turns 18, they are considered of legal age, and capable of being independent.
But study after study has shown that without time to complete final years of school, or post-school study, or find a job, significant numbers of these young people tend to fall through the social cracks of society, often becoming homeless, unemployed, falling into the criminal justice system or becoming a new parent within the first year on their own.
The benefits of support for longer
In 2018, The Victorian Government undertook a trial to extend care arrangements to 250 young people in foster or residential care. The results, which showed much better life outcomes for the young people, was behind the Victorian Government's decision to change its regulations permanently.
Research by Deloitte Access Economics showed the following benefits of extending care to the age of 21:
- Every dollar invested paid back at least twice over in future savings
- Homelessness among this group would be halved
- Rates of higher education participation would increase by 2.5 times
- Decreased arrests and hospitalisation
- Reduced alcohol and drug dependence, from 15.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent
- Reduced costs of delivering additional government services
- Improved mental and physical health outcomes, reduced intergenerational disadvantage and an increase in social connectedness.
Almost 50,000 Australian kids are in 'out of home care'
The most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that in 2017 there were 47,915 Australian children living in out of home care. The reasons children and young people end up in out of home care are many, but typically it is because their own parents cannot care for them, and they don't have relatives who can.
Often these children have suffered neglect and abuse. Sometimes children have lost their parents to an accident or to illness. It goes without saying that the impact this then has on their lives can put them behind their peers. Being cut off from support simply because they turn 18, whether they are ready to be, or capable of making their way out into society or not.
There are now calls for national reform so that all states and territories are mandated to offer support to young people until they turn 21.
The ACT currently provides carer subsidies until a young person is 21.
Tasmania is planning to extend care, as is South Australia. Western Australia has committed to a six-month trial, while the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales are yet to act at all.
To support the Home Stretch programme, the Victorian Government is also investing $10.3 million in the Better Futures program, which provides young people in care with a range of tailored supports, helping them to prepare for life after care - including education and employment advice, and life-skills coaching.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.