The benefits of supporting young people in care until they are 21 are clear, with plenty of evidence to support increasing the leaving age (CREATE, 2019; Deloitte Access Economics, 2016; McDowall, 2020). With the Victorian Government’s ground-breaking announcement extending the age of care to 21, and Western Australia’s Labor government pre-election commitment to make the HomeStretch program permanent if re-elected, the question has to be asked – when will the rest of Australia take this step too?
Here are our top 21 reasons why it makes sense to #makeit21
- We can see that it works. Other countries including the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand have implemented similar programs with great results, improving outcomes for young people.
- Stability is vital for success. Stability in care is critical to the ongoing development and wellbeing of children and young people. A stable care environment leads to better outcomes in all developmental domains, including educational, social, emotional, and behavioural.
- Other young people don’t have to leave home at 18. The average age for young people to leave their parents’ homes in Australia is 26-27. If everyone else is staying at home until this age, how can we expect young people to be set up for success if they are forced to be independent at 18?
- Reduced chance of homelessness. Our research has shown that more than one third of young people leaving care become homeless in their first year. If we gave them more time, these rates could halve – from 39 per cent to 19.5 per cent.
- Return on investment. For every dollar spent on supporting a young person, governments can expect to see $1.40 to $2.69 in return.
- Increased education outcomes. If young people were able to stay at home for a few more years, they would be more likely to complete their education and go on to further education. 9 per cent of young people would go on to post-schooling education compared to 3.6 per cent of those who don’t have extended support.
- Improved self-esteem. A supportive and safe environment is an essential foundation to increased self-esteem.
- Reduced rates of young parents. Leaving care as a parent adds another entire layer to the overwhelm of transitioning from care. Raising the leaving care age may mitigate the risk of becoming pregnant at a young age.
- Decreased arrests. One study found that the proportion of individuals leaving care at 18 who were arrested within the following two years was 16.3 per cent, compared to 10.4 per cent of those who had chosen to stay on until a later age.
- Improved health outcomes – both mental and physical. Stability and support are linked to improved outcomes across multiple life domains including health.
- The probability of alcohol and drug dependence would decrease – from 15.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent .
- Better employment opportunities. CREATE’s recent survey with care leavers aged 18-25 years, found that 30% had not found regular, paid employment, with most rating the job seeking experience as ‘somewhat difficult’ (McDowall, 2021). By encouraging continued education, extending care can increase opportunities to find secure work and become financially stable to support independence .
- It could help with overcoming trauma. Stable and consistent connections and relationships are VITAL for repairing, healing and growing. Young people in care have often faced a wide range of traumas in their lives and giving them this extra support could be life-changing .
- Improved social connections. When young people have positive relationships with someone, continued connection with them can lead to improved emotional wellbeing and social benefits.
- Solidifying relationships and support networks. Teenage years are so crucial when it comes to building relationships, and solidifying support networks is an important part of this.
- Providing the opportunity to learn independence, rather than forcing independence – a chance to learn life skills and be supported in the process, rather than being dropped in the deep end.
- It would give young people options. How many of us know exactly what we want to do with our lives at 17 or 18? Now imagine not having any form of financial emotional support. Providing this support would allow young people space to breathe, explore careers, study and work options.
- Young people are learning and can make mistakes. Many teenagers go through an “experimental” phase, and during this time might not always make the best decisions. Supporting young people to make good decisions and be there to help if things go wrong is instrumental to longer term success and development.
- Care doesn’t end at 18. “Care” is for life.
- Young people have told us this is what they need. We owe it to them to listen. The child protection sector talks the talk when it comes to engaging young people in decisions about their lives, and fostering an environment of participation. Young people, alongside advocates like CREATE, have been rallying for years about the benefits this change would bring to the lives of young people in care. When you consider all the evidence in favour of a move like this, it really comes down to: are we going to listen to young people?
- If you’re still not convinced, read items 1-20 again.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) reported that between 30 June 2018 to 30 June 2019, 3357 young people aged 15-17 were discharged from out-of-home care. Of this amount, a significant proportion would identify as a care leaver and would be expected to make their own way in the world. Whether you’re coming at this decision from a place of logic, economics, or emotion it leads us to the same conclusion. Would you expect your own children to be entirely independent at 18? It’s time to raise the leaving care age, and give young people the support they deserve!
To learn more about the Home Stretch campaign, a campaign to increase the age of leaving care to 21, head to www.thehomestretch.org.au
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Child protection Australia 2018-19. Child Welfare series no. 72. Cat. no. CWS 74. AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/3a25c195-e30a-4f10- a052-adbfd56d6d45/aihw-cws-74.pdf.aspx?inline=true
CREATE. (2019). Supported placement until 21. (Position Paper). CREATE Foundation. https://create.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CREATE-Position-Paper-Supported-Placement-Until-21-2019.pdf
Deloitte Access Economics. (2016). Extending out of home care to 21 years: Summary of the Australian socioeconomic cost benefit analysis. http://thehomestretch.org.au/site/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/National-Summary_CBA-Extending-Support-for-OOHC-to-21-New-Cover.pdf
McDowall, J. J. (2020). Transitioning to adulthood from out-of-home care: Independence or interdependence? CREATE Foundation.