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Recognising the rights and unique experience of young people in care

18 February 2021 at 7:57 am
Deb Tsorbaris
Ahead of Care Day on Friday, Deb Tsorbaris says it's time we take a better look at what young people in care and care leavers need to thrive. 

Deb Tsorbaris | 18 February 2021 at 7:57 am


Recognising the rights and unique experience of young people in care
18 February 2021 at 7:57 am

Ahead of Care Day on Friday, Deb Tsorbaris says it’s time we take a better look at what young people in care and care leavers need to thrive. 

For children and young people who can’t live safely at home, out-of-home care is an alternative care arrangement intended to keep them safe. 

Care arrangements are court ordered and can be temporary, medium or long-term. They include foster care (with a trained and accredited member of the public), kinship care (with a relative), and residential care (in a residential building with paid staff).

Many young people enter care having experienced immense trauma and abuse, and require significant support to enable them to heal and thrive. 

Across Australia, there are approximately 45,000 children and young people in the out-of-home care system (as at 30 June 2019). About one in 18 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are in out-of-home care, more than 10 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.

Victoria has the highest rate of children entering care in the country, with an 11 per cent growth per year from 2013 to 2018. This means that one in 50 Victorian children will have an out-of-home care experience before their 17th birthday.

While most young people in care reunite with their family as soon as it’s safely possible, we know that the experience can have a lifelong impact. It interrupts a young person’s connections to family, community, culture and education, all of which are vital to their wellbeing, health and development.

Care Day is an opportunity to do better by young people with a care experience

While these figures – and their continued growth – are startling, too often they’re the only way we represent young people in care.

While children in care are likely to experience a higher incidence of poor mental health, disability, emotional and behavioural difficulties than other young people, many also go on to vocational and higher education, independent living, and have successful careers and families of their own. 

When these young people don’t do those things, it’s not because they aren’t capable, but because they lack the support they need.

Ahead of Care Day on Friday, the world’s largest celebration of the rights of children and young people with an out-of-home care experience, it’s time we took a better look at what young people in care and care leavers need to thrive.

This year’s theme is “Making care fair – equality through equity”. All children and young people deserve to look forward to a future of opportunity, equality and equity, one where they are proud of themselves and their achievements. 

In order to achieve this for young people in care and care leavers, there are a number of things we need to do:

  • Listen to those who’ve experienced care firsthand.

In any context, people with lived experience hold unique insights into how a system, service or issue has impacted them. Young people who grew up in care are best placed to speak about the challenges and successes of their care experience. Even when decision makers have the best of intentions, they don’t necessarily have the perspective of those with lived experience.

  • Provide young people in care and care leavers with the support and services they need, not what we think they need.

To build on the previous point, those with lived experience know what support will help them and what won’t. Late last year, the Victorian government extended care arrangements to every young person in the state to 21 years on an ongoing basis, recognising their need for support beyond 18. With research showing that young people leaving care are at much higher risk of homelessness and unemployment compared to others of a similar age, this ground-breaking commitment will provide continued care for those that choose it in their transition to adulthood.

  • Embed young people in developing programs and systems to drive change.

Research shows that services and systems are more effective when they’re developed and operated by the children and young people who use them. At the centre, we’ve recently recruited three youth support facilitators to shape and contribute to youth participation projects and approaches at the centre and in the sector. The young people in these paid roles will provide input and perspectives on sector projects, policy submissions, meetings and consultations, and training and workshops.

Like all young people, those in and leaving care can and will succeed in all aspects of life when given the voice and support they need, when they need it. 

Deb Tsorbaris  |  @ProBonoNews

Deb Tsorbaris is the CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, the peak body for child and family services in Victoria.

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One comment

  • Frank Golding says:

    Great read Deb. I loved the reference to learning from people with ‘care’ experience – so much wisdom there. If you limited me to one recommendation for those providing out-of-home ‘care’ it would be: give the kids hope and a sense that there will be a better future for them.

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