The Australian government must uphold its responsibility to unemployed care leavers
28 June 2021 at 4:06 pm
With care leavers in young adulthood three times as likely as their peers to receive income support, it’s time for the government to increase payment rates above the poverty line so that this crucial support creates opportunities instead of barriers, writes Deb Tsorbaris.
More than 56,000 children and young people are in out-of-home care in Australia, with many having experienced immense trauma and abuse. For young people leaving care, housing, education, mental health and employment outcomes are low.
For the first time in Australia, a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) presents data on the prevalence of income support receipt among young people transitioning from care.
The study finds that time in out-of-home care is associated with higher levels of income support receipt, with care leavers in young adulthood three times as likely as their peers who have not been in care to receive income support.
It found that care leavers are more likely to receive certain payment types, including unemployment payments – which they were four times more likely to receive compared to the Australian population of the same age.
The study also revealed the most disadvantaged young people among the out-of-home care population – including those living in residential care, those with six or more placements, Aboriginal young people, and young people first entering or exiting care aged 13 years or over – were more likely to receive income support in young adulthood.
Many young people, from a diverse range of backgrounds and circumstances, need financial and practical support in the transition to adulthood. For young people leaving care, the data shows that the Australian government, through the social security system, is a common source of financial assistance.
All levels of government have a responsibility to improve the long-term outcomes of young people who have been in care, and the Australian government and state and territory governments have all committed to meeting this responsibility under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.
However, the evidence clearly shows that working-age payment rates are below the poverty line. A Senate Community Affairs References Committee report on Australia’s unemployment payment found that the income support system is not meeting its objective of ensuring a minimum standard of living for working-age jobseekers. Evidence reviewed by the committee showed that the low rate of payments, combined with poorly designed mutual obligations and employment services, create a barrier to employment rather than providing the support people need to find and access work. Although the unemployment payment has since been increased by $50 per fortnight, the rate remains below the poverty line.
At the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (the Centre), we’re deeply concerned about what this means for care leavers. Is it fair that children who have been in the care of the state live in poverty as young people and adults? We know that the transition to adulthood and independence is more difficult and can take much longer for young people who have been in care than for their peers due to the range of complexities and barriers they face, and that more supports are needed to assist young people on this journey.
While many state-based initiatives for transition and post-care supports, such as Home Stretch and Raising Expectations, are making a difference for young people, the Australian government must do more to meet their responsibilities to care leavers. Adequate and secure income for young people while they navigate these challenges is crucial, and circumstances such as those faced by care leavers are a key reason why our social security system is necessary and important.
Children and young people who are removed from their parents deserve the best possible support when in care, leaving care and post-care. This includes a social security system that is adequate and supportive for the young people who need it.
The Centre calls on the Australian government to give care leavers the financial security and stability they need by immediately increasing payment rates above the poverty line so that this crucial support creates opportunities instead of barriers.