Extending care works – just ask us
30 June 2022 at 8:51 am
New South Wales is now the only jurisdiction that doesn’t extend comprehensive support to care leavers beyond the age of 18. Here, the Youth Advisory Group of Uniting’s Extended Care Program responds to the NSW state budget neglecting to consider extending support to 21.
We are 10 young people aged between 18 and 25 years old. We grew up in foster care in NSW and feel lucky we were selected to participate in Uniting’s Extended Care Pilot Program, which began in April 2019. The Extended Care Program provides us with three extra years of support, and the chance to grow and develop in a way that young people who didn’t grow up in care get to experience as a normal part of life.
Some of us kept living with our foster carers when we turned 18, others got help to find housing but only when we felt practically, mentally, and emotionally ready to make this transition. All of us have our own youth development coach, who meets with us regularly to offer support and help us plan for the future.
Earlier this month, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that her government would extend support to young people leaving foster care up until the age of 21. New South Wales is now the only state or territory in the whole country that doesn’t extend comprehensive support to care leavers beyond the age of 18.
There is lots of evidence now in Australia and across the world that shows how best to support young people leaving care. Every young person transitioning to adulthood successfully needs ongoing support and assistance, so we can develop the skills to make choices about where to live, what to study and what type of careers we want. Without this support, the future can look pretty scary for young people leaving care.
In NSW we turn 18 knowing that 50 per cent of us will be homeless, in jail or unemployed within the first 12 months of leaving care. These are not things that just disappear. The consequences of these outcomes last a lifetime. The State of NSW has been our legal guardian throughout our childhood – but that parent seems to disappear when we turn 18. After our 18th birthdays, we feel as if we get a pat on the back, some pocket money, and then we’re sent on our way. Why does this happen to young people leaving care and not other young people in Australia who get to grow up with their families? It doesn’t seem fair.
Being part of the Uniting Extended Care Pilot has shown us that extending care to the age of 21 works. Not one of us had to experience homelessness, we finished year 12 and are now either studying or working. Not one day has passed where we have felt lost and scared because we have our youth development coaches, who have created a lifeline for us. With a coach in your life, it feels like someone is watching over you. They respect our thoughts and opinions, sometimes they challenge us, help us set goals and work out how to get there. Our coach helps us with life decisions, gives us a chance to dream and gives us opportunities to experience new things.
We will be forever grateful to Uniting for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of the Extended Care Pilot Program, but we also know that we are just a small percentage of the young people leaving care in NSW each year. We believe that the NSW government has the power to change this.
We ask Premier Perrottet to make a commitment to extend care for all young people living in care in NSW. We have a right to expect that of you, as our legal parent. It is the right thing to do.