According to recent statistics, more than half of Australians aged between 18 and 24 have not yet left home and, although 25-34 year olds are more likely to have left, an estimated 17 per cent still have not yet flown the nest.
But for the 43,000 children living in foster care across Australia, the luxury of staying at home is not necessarily a reality. When a child in foster care turns 18, the support their carer receives ceases, which, in some cases, could force the child to live independently before they are ready.
The Australian Greens believe that children and young people have a right to a loving and nurturing environment. We also consider that prevention strategies play a significant role in setting children and young people up for lifelong success and giving them a good start in life.
At the age of 18, many young people are only just discovering their place in the world. It is a time of identity seeking, decision making and learning. Getting a licence and a car, enrolling to vote, going to licensed venues and paying bills are just some of the rights and responsibilities that accompany this coming of age period, with many young people going through trial and error to muddle through this tricky stage. Without a stable family unit, this stage can often be far trickier.
Living in foster homes can already be a traumatic experience, especially if a child is moved to various homes within their time in the system. But by extending the financial and emotional support to foster carers until the child under their guardianship is 21, children who have faced difficult times already in their short lives can have the chance to stay at home and receive support to pursue tertiary study, be guided by parents who can help them see their way through those formative years of adulthood and leave to live independently when they are ready.
In 2014 in the United Kingdom, the government announced that local authorities were legally obliged to support every young person who wanted to stay in foster care until their 21st birthday. Prior to that, young people were only supported to live with foster families until their 18th birthday. The same extended care arrangements were also implemented in the United States. The evidence there shows that youths remaining in foster care past the age of 18 are twice as likely to be working or attending high school at age 19, twice as likely complete at least one year of college by age 21 and, when remaining in care until 21, twice as likely to earn a college degree.
In 2014, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, a long-time campaigner for children and young people in care, initiated and chaired a national inquiry into out-of-home care. The Report of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee on the Inquiry into Children in Out of Home Care in Australia was handed down in August last year and made 39 recommendations to improve the Out of Home Care system in Australia.
Included in these was the recommendation that all states and territories raise the age to which young people continue to receive ongoing post-care support to 21.
Dissatisfied with the Government’s sluggish response to these issues, a group of passionate organisations and individuals have launched the Home Stretch campaign. This national campaign asks all State Governments to provide an option for youth in the Out-of-Home-Care system to remain in care until the age of 21 — much like what is happening in any other family setting in Australia.
Young people in Out-of-Home-Care have had a tumultuous start to life. To leave them, at the vulnerable age of 18, without support services or a stable home environment is wrong. We should be supporting them during this period of early adulthood to build a better community and society for all.
While there will always be youths wanting to fly the nest at the first opportunity, both in care and living with their birth parents, giving a choice to those who might have been disadvantaged (by circumstances outside of their control) has the potential to set them up for a more successful life. Extending the support for carers extends the care to those who need it most.