Researchers push to extend state care to 25
7 October 2021 at 4:46 pm
Advocates believe service providers would strongly support this raise to the leaving age
While the social sector has pushed for years to raise the leaving care age from 18 to 21, a new report says that state support should be extended even further until a person turns 25.
Researchers examined Victorian government data from more than 1,800 young people who left out-of-home state care in 2013 and 2014 to see how they fared after their support ended between the ages of 15 and 18.
They found that four years on from leaving care, 54 per cent had experienced homelessness; 11 per cent had been to hospital for a mental health issue; and 31 per cent had been issued a custodial or community youth justice sentence.
These problems have long been known to the social sector, prompting advocacy groups like the Home Stretch campaign to push for state care to be extended until a person turns 21.
Deloitte research in 2016 found that extending state care from 18 to 21 would have major benefits for care leavers, 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.
But researchers for the latest Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report believe this support should go further, calling for a national, minimum leaving care age of 25 years.
Lead researcher, RMIT University associate professor Robyn Martin, told Pro Bono News that 25 was a much more suitable leaving age for vulnerable young people.
“If you look at what happens for young people living with their families, we generally don’t expect them to be independent and ready to leave home at the age of 18 without a safety net they can turn to,” Martin said.
“And so it’s a very unrealistic expectation for care leavers to be leaving at 18 or even 21, because we do know that young people are staying longer in their family home because of the cost of housing, the precarious employment market etc.”
The report found that compared with other young Victorians, state care leavers were 21 times more likely to access alcohol/drug treatment, 17.5 times more likely to use homelessness services and 4.5 times more likely to end up in the emergency department.
Martin said raising the state care age to 25 would make a major difference to these statistics, because it would ensure young people had support networks and a safety net in place when things went wrong.
For example, she noted that one young person told researchers that if they got sick and didn’t have a car, they had no one who could drive them to a GP.
“This tells us that there are no real safety nets other than the homelessness system and other services like emergency departments that are picking up these young people,” she said.
“So this idea of having safety nets that support young adults to move into adulthood is really significant. And that’s why raising the age of leaving care to 25 is so important.”
Most states and territories on board with extending care
Earlier this year, it was revealed children in the Northern Territory’s out-of-home care system would have their support extended until they reach 21.
Home Stretch chair Paul McDonald noted at the time that six out of eight Australian governments now had formal policies of care to 21 years, with New South Wales and Queensland the only exceptions.
Martin said she believed there would be strong support in the social sector for the leaving care age to be extended to 25 years.
“I think there are a lot of people who are advocating for this, because we spoke to service providers and in the main they said it should be 25,” she said.
“What those service providers reinforced was that these young people don’t have the sort of support that most young people would have.
“And the social services sector is very conscious of that because they’re often filling that gap.”
Researchers also called for national minimum standards and auditing processes for young people leaving care, noting that planning needed to start well before the formal exit took place.
Martin said that limited or non-existent planning for care leavers was a major concern, with many young people overwhelmed by having to process a lot of information and choose post-care services at the last minute.
You can see the full report here.