11 May 2021

Advocates support Libs' push to extend out of home care to 21-year-olds

| Dominic Giannini
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Elizabeth Kikkert

Elizabeth Kikkert says the age cap on out of home care should be extended to 21. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Vulnerable young people in the ACT will be given more support under a new proposal to increase the age of Canberra’s out of home care system from 18 to 21.

Carer subsidies are currently available for people between 18 and 21 after their care and protection order ends, but it is not uniform and there are various eligibility criteria.

Out of home care includes residential care, family group homes, foster care and relative or kinship care. According to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were just under 700 children in out of home care in the ACT as of 30 June 2019.

A plan to transition from out of home care when they turn 18 is started when the child is aged 15.

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The ACT Foster Care Association has welcomed calls to raise the age, saying those three formative years are invaluable and can impact a person’s quality of life for decades to come.

At an age when most young people would still be living at home, Association board member Bernadette Blenkiron said vulnerable people who have been in and out of home care during their youth may need the extra support to gain independence.

This is due to children in out of home care often having fewer supports than their peers, which increases the risk of homelessness, leaving school early and not undertaking further education or training, unemployment and involvement with the criminal justice system.

“In this environment, it is difficult for anybody to try and find jobs or secure a house in this market,” she said.

“Many young people are struggling, and their families are not always in a great position to support them.

“It is an opportunity to support them to go through to university or CIT or to whatever they want to do to become young, independent people.”

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Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services Elizabeth Kikkert introduced a motion in the Legislative Assembly today (11 May) calling on the government to extend out of home care to the age of 21 for those wishing to stay in the system.

Ms Kikkert said half of the people who leave out-of-home care end up homeless, in jail or as new parents within a year.

The extension would cost around $900,000 for eligible Canberrans in out of home care but would save money in the long run by reducing stress on homelessness services and the criminal justice system, Ms Kikkert said.

“Almost two-thirds of the nation’s homeless youth are those who have left out of home care,” she said.

“The solution is to better replicate the family. Families know that young people don’t magically become fully independent at a certain age.”

Ms Kikkert’s motion also called on the government to establish a task force that would identify the best way to support people in out of home care until the age of 21.

Families and Community Services Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith amended the motion, which still committed the government, in principle, to increase the age. Subsequently, they removed the provisions for the task force as the research had already been conducted.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Families and Community Services Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government agreed, in principle, to extending the age. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the system would move towards a presumption that young people and their carers will continue to receive support until they are 21, essentially becoming an opt-out from the age of 18.

Orders will continue to end once a child turns 18, so it will be a voluntary level of support for young people, although those who wish to leave the system at 18 can still do so and remain free to return in the future.

“Building in a presumption that young people will continue to receive support, as opposed to a system where they have to seek the support [or] work through eligibility criteria, makes it a lot simpler to plan for ongoing support,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The government will also explore legal options to include the presumption in the Child and Young People Act 2008 and ways to improve data collection on young people who have exited the out of home care system.

The government will need to report back to the Legislative Assembly by the last sitting day in June 2022.

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