CREATE Foundation, an advocacy organisation for children who are in state care or have been in state care, recently released a report into the outcomes for young people leaving out-of-home-care or foster care in New South Wales.
In the first year after leaving care, CREATE has found that when children who have been in the care of the Minister turn 18, these young people are less likely than those in other states to have a Leaving Care Plan and up to one third may become homeless after leaving care.
Care leavers are more likely to be unemployed than others in this age group and are also more likely to spend time in prison. Barnardos have found that one in seven young people leaving care are either pregnant or already mothers.
Leaving Care Plans should be available to all of these vulnerable young people so that they can make a start on developing the life skills they will need to look after themselves in the adult world. This should include an introduction to training, further education or employment.
All young people who turn 18, have had a care order and been in the care of the Department of Family and Community Services or a non government care agency such as Barnardos or UnitingCare Burnside, should be offered substantial assistance to prepare for transition to adult life.
Ideally, preparation begins at age 15 when living skills such as cooking, budgeting and making job applications are practised with the help of case workers and carers. By the age of 17, carers and case workers need to be helping young people to prepare a “leaving care plan” which stays in place until age 25. Young people with a disability need to begin planning a little earlier and can seek assistance from Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) who can follow through with care plans.
Care Plans are an entitlement and young people have a legal right to have them so why is it that so few seem to be in place? I have asked the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister for Finance and Services to provide me with information on what percentage of children in the care of the Minister have leaving care plans. Both Ministers have refused to provide details on the number of children and young people in care with leaving care plans. I would have thought transparency in fulfilment of statutory rights was the order of the day for this new government.
Most care leavers are also entitled to a one-off payment called Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA) but many young people do not seem to be aware of this. I congratulate the Department of Family and Community Services for their document entitled “Information for Young People leaving Care – Your Next Step”. It provides comprehensive information for this group of young people.
Planning for Leaving Care ideally should begin when kids in care are 14 or 15, and as recommended in the document just mentioned, they need to make sure they are aware of personal hygiene, know how to cook a simple meal, use a washing machine and dryer, can use an ATM and manage a simple budget. They also need to know how to get help in an emergency, be able to list some birth control options and explain the risks of drugs, alcohol and unsafe sex. This knowledge is of course important to all teenagers.
At around age 17 it is necessary for young people to begin to acquire further skills such as knowing how to budget for ongoing costs as well as unexpected emergencies that might arise; knowing how to arrange accommodation and how to sign a rental agreement. Having a tax file number, a resume and learning how to apply for a job and knowing how to enrol to vote are also important skills to acquire. All this information and suggestions are contained in the FACS document – Your Next Step – Information for Young People Leaving Care.
However, this great information often does not seem to translate into action for this vulnerable group. It would appear that many do not receive the information or assistance to access it and act on it. I understand that the work required for case workers to go through this process is detailed and time-consuming, and high case loads mean that the time is not always available to get all this information to the young people who would greatly benefit from it.
In developing a Leaving Care Plan, a 17-year-old would probably benefit from the help of an independent party in what is essentially a contract negotiation with a government department.
An example of this would be Barnardo’s leaving care services that aim to bridge the gap for children in care between leaving care and living in the adult world. Barnardos will help young people to develop the life skills they will need to look after themselves, including those listed in the FACS document mentioned as well as encouraging them to undertake employment, training or further education.
When they leave care, Barnardo’s helps the young people secure permanent accommodation and remains available to offer support and counselling if necessary. If this essential system is in place but actually not being delivered effectively to young people, then possibly enforcement mechanisms need to be in place.