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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Care for young people should be extended to 21

Young people should be able to remain in care until they turn 21, the ACT Legislative Assembly decided this week, rather than being kicked out of care when they turn 18.

Liberal MLA Elizabeth Kikkert put forward the motion, amended by Rachel Stephen-Smith, Minister for Families and Community Services, with the assistance of Johnathan Davis, Greens Spokesperson for Young People.

Care and protection orders in the ACT end when a young person turns 18. (Some can opt-in to continue living with their kinship or foster carer, determined on a case-by-case basis.)

“This abrupt transition process does not replicate the natural transition process experienced by young people who grow up in secure homes, where they can gradually enter adulthood and assume full independence,” Mrs Kikkert said.

Young people who leave care are more at risk of homelessness, failure to complete school, lack of further education or training, unemployment, contact with the criminal justice system, poor health, poor mental health, substance abuse, violence, and poverty, she said. But extending out-of-home care halved the risk of homelessness.

In Australia, half of care leavers end up on the streets, in jail, or as new parents within a year, while a Swinburne University study showed that two-thirds of homeless youth nationwide were care leavers. On the other hand, 43% of those aged 20-24 still lived with their parents.

Stakeholders, service providers, Aboriginal Elders, former care and protection workers, and young care leavers had all told her that the ACT’s current approach was failing kids and carers, Mrs Kikkert said. Policies were not fully implemented; there were too many barriers.

The Assembly voted to support extending care to 21 for any young person who wished to remain in supported care after they turned 18.

Subsidies for carers

The ACT Government amended laws in 2015 to extend the continuum of care subsidy payments to eligible care leavers up to 21, while young people could access other forms of post-care support until they turned 25.

However, Mrs Kikkert believed that current government subsidies for foster and kinship carers after 18 were inadequate – less than two-thirds the amount given to carers of children 17 and younger.

Following Ms Stephen-Smith’s amendments, the Government will investigate automatically extending the continuum care subsidy for people in care and care leavers until 21. (The current opt-in system created an unnecessary administrative burden, Mr Davis said.)

The Government will also investigate whether the amount of support is appropriate, and will improve data collection on young people who exited care.

The Government will report back to the Assembly on these matters by the last sitting day of June.

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), welcomed Mrs Kikkert’s proposal and the government decision. “This motion as amended is a substantial step forward.”

ACTCOSS had advocated for the ACT Government to extend supported placements for all young people in out-of-home care, without individual assessments and incremental approval, from 18 to 21 years; and to provide an aftercare service for young people up to the age of 25 years, along the lines of other states.

“It will be positive to see comprehensive support for measures to extend out-of-home care provisions for young people between the ages of 18 and 21,” Dr Campbell said. “The move to an opt-out rather than opt-in model of care for young people will provide them valuable supports as they navigate the hurdles of early adulthood. We also need to ensure that those supports are comprehensive and adequate.

“We want to keep this on the agenda until full supports are enacted and delivered and working for young people in Canberra.”

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