VCOSS recently published its 2016-17 State Budget Submission Putting people back in the picture. A series of blogs will examine some of the proposals in the submission.
Young people leaving out-of-home care are among the most vulnerable groups in society and are more likely to experience housing instability or homelessness, be unemployed and earn lower wages, have poorer educational outcomes, including early school leaving, be involved in the criminal justice system, experience poor physical and mental health and substance abuse. Research by the CREATE Foundation suggests that only 35 per cent of care leavers had completed year 12, 29 per cent were unemployed, 35 per cent were homeless in the first 12 months after leaving care and 70 per cent were either fully (54 per cent) or partly (16 per cent) dependent on income support.
Access to safe and affordable housing is crucial for young people to successfully transition to independent living, yet many care leavers can face challenges in securing housing. In the private rental market they may experience discrimination due to their age, limited rental history and limited finances. More affordable housing is often located away from other amenities, including services public transport, as well as employment opportunities. Access to public or supported housing also poses challenges, with limited availability with long waiting lists and in some cases the housing options are inappropriate for these young people.  As a result too many care leavers experience housing instability or homelessness, with estimates that up to half of all care leavers experience homelessness.
Young people in out-of-home care continue to experience poor educational outcomes and are less likely to complete year 12 or equivalent. In addition to dealing with the trauma which led them to be placed in care, many young people experience placement instability causing them to miss substantial periods of schooling, have frequent changes of schools and curriculum disruptions, resulting in repeating some components, whilst not continuing others.  Because of their vulnerability they can experience lower expectations placed on them to succeed in education. Consequently, care leavers are often unable or unprepared to transition to further education or training at the age of 18. While limited data is available, estimates indicate that only 1 to 20 per cent of care leavers’ transition to further education, with the vast majority of these engaging in training, rather than higher education.,
Few young people transitioning from care, particularly those in residential care, are developmentally ready to live independently at the age of 18 and in many cases they lack a supportive network to assist them with the transition.
“Once a child has turned 18 and leaves residential care, they are on their own and do not necessarily have the skills or accommodation options to be able to live independently and safely.”
In comparison, other young people are often financially and emotionally supported by their families well into their 20s and are living in their family homes longer. It is therefore reasonable to extend this type of support to young people leaving care, who are at greater risk of poor transitions to independence.
While there are several effective supports available to assist care leavers in Victoria, such as the Springboard to Learning program, Post Care Support, Information and Referral Services and Berry Street’s Stand By Me pilot program, which provides intensive case management support, these programs are not offered in a consistent and coordinated way throughout the state. As outlined in VCOSS State Budget Submission: Putting people back in the picture the Victorian government can help support young people leaving care to transition to independent living by providing a statewide, integrated, holistic leaving care support model for all care leavers up to the age of 21, with the option to be extended to the age of 25, where required.
To help care leavers find stable housing, pursue education and training and/or gain stable employment, the state government could provide a housing and education guarantee. The housing guarantee could provide flexible support to care leavers to help them secure and maintain private rental accommodation, such as proving a rent supplement to assist the young people if they are studying and unable to work and to access to funds in times of financial stress. An education guarantee could provide care leavers with access to fee-free post-compulsory education including both Vocational Education and Training and University courses. This could be supported by expanding supported housing options, such as the Youth Foyer initiative, which provide vulnerable young people who can’t live at home with safe and affordable accommodation, while providing life skills development and supporting them to engage in education, training and employment.
In addition to supporting young people leaving care to achieve independence, the VCOSS 2016 -17 State Budget Submission outlines a number of ways the Victorian government can help support vulnerable children and families by:
- Improving children’s health and development with better access to Maternal and Child Health Services
- Helping vulnerable families through intensive early years support
- Helping vulnerable families and children benefit from playgroups
- Better supporting all Aboriginal children to thrive
- Helping foster and kinship carers given children a supportive home environment
- Giving every child in out-of-home care high-quality therapeutic placements
, T Beauchamp, Young people transitioning from out-of-home care to adulthood: Review of policy and program approaches in Australia and overseas, UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families, 2014.
 J McDowall, Create Report Card 2009: transitioning from care: tracking progress, CREATE Foundation, 2009. P.55 -57,
 G Johnson, K Natalier, P Mendes, M Liddiard, S Thoresen, A Hollows and N Bailey, Pathways from out-of-home care, AHURI Final Report No. 147, Australian Housing and Urban Reach Institute, Melbourne, 2010.
 Council to homeless persons, Young people leaving care need a safety net, http://chp.org.au/young-people-leaving-care-need-a-safety-net/#.VniR4vl96Um
 S Wise, S Pollock, G Mitchell, C Argus and P Farquhar, CIAO: Care-system impacts on academic outcomes, Anglicare Victoria and Wesley Mission Victoria, Melbourne, 2010, p. 8.
 J. J McDowall, Experiencing Out-of-Home Care in Australia: The Views of Children and Young People (CREATE report card 2013), CREATE Foundation, Sydney, 2013.
 A Harvey, P McNamara, L Andrewartha, M Luckman, Out of care into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers, p. 48.
 J McDowall, Create Report Card 2009, op. cit., p.57.
 Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Residential Care Services for Children, Melbourne, 2014, p. 19.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Home and away: the living arrangements of young people’ Australian Social Trends, Cat. No. 4102.0, June 2009.
 Council to homeless persons, op. cit.
 Berry Street, Submission in response to: Senate Inquiry Out-of-Home Care, November 2014; Centre for Excellence, 2014 Election Statement, October 2014.