Why we should extend out-of-home care until 21

This week was Foster Care and Kinship week (12-18th September) and I can guess a majority of people wouldn’t of known or heard about it (unless you work within or have connections to child protection/community services). Today I’m yarning about the importance of extending foster care supports to 21 years old. I wish to shine a light on our youth and the challenges they face after they formally leave care at 18.

As we all know, in our foster care system, when a child reaches 18, they no longer receive supports from caseworkers, programs that may have been apart of and at times their foster carers. Young people at 18 are supposed to have an aftercare financial plan (sometimes these are delayed for months after turning 18) however, we know this is not enough. There is also some ‘light touch’ supports for aftercare services, but even this isn’t sufficient.

These are the reasons why I advocate and support The Home Stretch Campaign. I happily said yes to being one of the young people voices as a guest speaker at the 2021 Homestretch Symposium held on 12th September. This are advocating alongside petitioning for our governments to look into the current situation for our youth transitioning out of care. It’s so important to get our young people help from the ground up, because we can’t really expect them to be able to look after themselves overnight.

The statistics make me really worried (as they have been this high for as long as I can remember). According to research conducted by The Home Stretch, last year alone, over 3,000 young individuals who turned 18 left the formal care system. The Home Stretch also learned that over the years, the outcomes of this setup brought about negative effects on for young people. Due to the lack of continued support, many of our young people end up homeless and struggling. As much as 50% of those who leave foster care at 18 go through unemployment, end up in jail or become new parents themselves within 12 months after exiting from care. Even though we know we know that this isn’t their goal or purpose to always be in these situations – it’s because they don’t have the supports to help them in their journey and transitioning into adulthood.

To add information for a clearer picture of our current situation, Create Foundation conducted a study with 325 young people across Australia, who had experienced care. From education (only 35% were able to continue studies to year 12, TAFE, uni) to accommodation (30% were homeless during the first year after leaving care), there were so many areas where young people really needed urgent assistance and didn’t receive it.

We shouldn’t be expecting young people at 18 to fend for themselves and have the life experiences of a 30-year-old overnight. They shouldn’t be expected to take care of themselves when there hasn’t been proper guidance. Our young people need the kind of guidance that will see them through slowly, over the years, until they are at least 21. This is why I valued my role as a Youth Development Coach for Uniting so much.

When I worked as a youth development coach for Uniting, I had the opportunity to connect with young people and provide support, guidance, and opportunities for young people in foster care to explore and achieve their goals. At the heart of our mission was to empower young people who 15-21 years old to set goals, work through what they need to achieve them, and know they had someone on the ground that had their back every day. To know they had the supports from people whilst they learnt more about what they wanted to do, what they needed to do and creating a path for themselves – a life outside of the care system as an option. My heart is so happy to know that some of the young people I worked with have carved a path for themselves such as becoming Navy officer, gaining employment, going to uni and even getting their driver’s license and finishing their HSC. They are all so amazing, I can tell you that now!

But Extended Care shouldn’t just be a program from the 60 young people within Uniting’s Pilot, to should be offered for ALL young people transitioning out of care.

Our young people really need our help! Please visit www.thehomestretch.org.au to read more about their mission and how you can help. Join the campaign by signing their pledge to raise the standards of assistance up to 21 years old.

I strongly believe that young people are our hope, as they will shape our future (so we should help shape theirs!). And it is our responsibility to lift them up and help them have a fair chance in life. If we all help, imagine all the potential each child from foster care can unlock. The mear fact that we already know children and young people going into the child protection system for a reason and have experienced all levels of trauma or hardships, that they have to endure for the rest of their lives – let’s help them start fresh and help them follow their dreams.

Some resources I mentioned:

For any young people that want to reach out, as mentioned my email is: admin@leticiaannedesigns.com.au or you can link to me on instagram @leticia_anne.designs

Yarn again soon,

Leticia Anne