Victoria extends support for every young person in state care
25 November 2020 at 6:31 pm
Advocates are now urging New South Wales and Queensland to commit to extending state care
The social sector is celebrating a major advocacy win with the Victorian government announcing that all young people in out-of-home care will be supported until they turn 21.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas on Tuesday pledged $64.7 million to make the Home Stretch program universal, meaning a young person in state care has the option to remain living with their kinship or foster carer after they turn 18, or can transition to supported independent living arrangements.
This commitment comes on the back of strong campaigning from the sector to extend state care to 21, with advocates concerned that many young people were ending up homeless, involved with the criminal justice system, or facing unemployment after losing their support at 18.
Home Stretch chair Paul McDonald said this was a fantastic commitment and could be the most significant reform to child welfare in a generation.
“This announcement will transform the lives of vulnerable young people for the better, giving them options they would not have if their support had been terminated at 18 – as it is for the majority of young people across the country,” McDonald said.
“The bottom line is that young people in care should have a place to call home until they turn 21… Research shows that every extra year of care that is provided past the age of 18 dramatically improves their life chances as an adult.”
Deloitte research in 2016 found that extending state care from 18 to 21 would have major benefits for this vulnerable cohort, halving the homelessness rate, increasing higher education participation by 2.5 times, and reducing alcohol and drug dependence from 15.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent.
This announcement builds on a $11.6 million commitment from the Victorian government in 2018 to roll out the Home Stretch program for 250 young care leavers, and extend care allowance support to foster and kinship carers.
McDonald told Pro Bono News this trial has been an incredible success and shown how vital this extended support is for young people.
“I was receiving notes and cards from carers, even from young people themselves saying ‘I’m just so relieved now that I know I don’t have to worry about my future over the next three years’,” he said.
“And carers [noticed] the anxiety just drifting away from a young person knowing that they’ve got this permanent support from the state. And so it’s always been a no brainer.”
Victoria is the first state or territory to roll out universal state care up to 21 years, but Tasmania and South Australia have committed to extending support for a further three years.
McDonald said he had also heard encouraging signs from the chief ministers in the Northern Territory and the ACT that they will take action on this issue during their term.
He now urged New South Wales and Queensland to show progress and commit to extending state care to 21.
“New South Wales unfortunately has its head in the sand on this issue. There’s a privately funded trial in New South Wales by Uniting Care, which is absolutely shooting the lights out in outcomes for young people,” he said.
“I call on New South Wales to embrace what Victoria has done and not be left behind.
“Queensland also needs to take the next step. They have been extending state care to 19. Why not 21? All the good evidence of reductions in homeless rates, reductions in arrests [etc.] happen when we extend care for three years, not for one year.”
Social sector praises Victorian budget
The extension of state care was announced as part of the Victorian state budget, which has been broadly welcomed by the social sector.
Community groups were particularly pleased by the record-breaking $5.3 billion spend on social and affordable housing, the $870 million commitment to bolster Victoria’s mental health system, and the plans for power bill relief and targeted energy efficiency upgrades.
Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) CEO Emma King said this was an inequality crushing budget.
“This budget is literally brimming with positive, smart and effective social policy measures that will make real inroads into poverty and disadvantage,” King said.
“[It] sets us on a new course. One where people come first, and community and individual wellbeing is the main game in town.”