Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services Elizabeth Kikkert will move a private member’s motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly today, calling on the Labor-Greens Government to commit to formally extending out-of-home care to age 21.
Mrs Kikkert said research makes it clear that this is the correct approach for young people who have been removed from their families and raised in the territory’s care and protection system.
“In Australia, 50 per cent of care leavers end up either homeless, in jail or as new parents within 12 months,” said Mrs Kikkert.
“On average, they experience below-average education, employment, and health outcomes, including mental health. Almost two-thirds of the nation’s homeless youth are those who have left out-of-home care.
“The solution is to better replicate the family; families know that young people don’t magically become fully independent at a certain age.
“Most Australian youth continue to live with their parents after they turn 18, where they are supported as they develop naturally into strong, capable adults. Formally extending out-of-home care to age 21 helps achieve similar outcomes.
“Most American states now provide this option, as do Canada, the UK and New Zealand. In these places, homelessness rates for care leavers have been halved, education participation rates have doubled, and employment rates have gone up. This is good for both young people and their communities.
“The ACT Government has provided some additional supports to care leavers since 2012, which is good, but it’s not yet good enough.
“Generous care providers can apply for a small subsidy to help them continue to support those who legally age out of care, but this process is a hurdle that creates uncertainty and can leave care leavers without support depending on a foster family’s circumstances.
“It is far better for young people to know they have guaranteed security till age 21 and then allow them to age out as they are ready,” Mrs Kikkert concluded.
The motion also calls on the government to establish a taskforce to review what other jurisdictions around the world are doing and propose the best possible reforms for Canberra as well as improved data collection to better track outcomes for care leavers.