Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services Elizabeth Kikkert wants staff in residential care homes and the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre to receive ongoing training so they can adequately mentor and tutor children in literacy and numeracy before they exit care and protection.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Ms Kikkert said, “These dedicated, passionate youth workers have sought to do all they could to help the children and young people in their care, and they have great hopes for these kids”.
“These kids cannot be placed in a home-based option, and they are often some of the most vulnerable in the system, presenting with significant and complex problems. Many of these young people fully or partially disengage with formal learning.
“However, we can improve their life outcomes if we give them better supports before it’s too late.”
Ms Kikkert also called for a service similar to Victoria’s TEACHaR program to be brought to the ACT. The program, run by Anglicare, provides specialised tutoring to vulnerable children.
Young people and children in residential care in out-of-home care experience poorer educational outcomes, including lower levels of literacy and numeracy; lower school attendance and engagement; and lower rates of completing Year 12.
Half of the young people who leave residential care end up homeless, in jail or as a new parent within 12 months.
The statistics lead to Ms Kikkert introducing a separate motion last month to increase the age of Canberra’s out of home care system from 18 to 21.
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 commences when the child is aged 15.
Families and Community Services Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said there is strong wrap-around support for these children and young people, but it was always worth exploring further options to better their education.
Ms Stephen-Smith amended the motion, which now calls on the government to “explore ways to support available to staff in residential care homes and Bimberi Youth Justice Centre”*.
The government will report back to the Assembly on these efforts by the last sitting day of October.
Ms Stephen-Smith said it was important to recognise that youth workers were not tutors and that putting further obligations on them may not be the most appropriate way to increase educational outcomes.
“We are talking about some of the most challenged and complex young people in our community, so it is really important to recognise that supporting any pro-social activity and any educational engagement is absolutely critical,” she said.
“But exploring programs like Anglicare’s TEACHaR program, exploring other opportunities to support our fabulous staff in creating an educationally supportive environment – that is something we are definitely keen to [do],” she said.
*The original article said the government amended paragraph 3 of the motion. Only paragraph 3(a) was amended.