Supporting vulnerable young people longer

The State Liberals have announced a policy that will increase the age limit for which foster carers and kinship carers can receive support for children in their care from 18 to 21.

“This policy is driven by the realisation that cutting off support to out of home carers when the young person they are looking after reaches 18 increases the chances of these young adults ending up on the streets or in prison,” said Shadow Minister for Families and child Protection Rachel Sanderson.

The National Swinburne study on youth homelessness found that 63% of Australia’s homeless young people has been in care. Another study found that 50% of care leavers will end up in jail, unemployed, homeless or a new parent soon after leaving care.

“It makes no sense to push these vulnerable young people out of the home they are being protected in the moment they turn 18,” said Ms Sanderson.

“Sky high rents, a very tight jobs market and the absence of a broader familial network all work against these young people being able to find their feet if forced to leave the protection of their foster carers’ home.

“Foster carers who love the children they have been looking after are often unable to continue to support when the carers payment is withdrawn leaving the young people in an incredibly vulnerable situation.

“Those that do continue to support these young people out of their own pocket are consequently much less likely to be able to care for other, younger foster children.

“Forcing these young people out of their foster carers home at 18 is at odds with the trend for children to stay in the family home well into their twenties.

“To my mind the current policy entrenches the deep disadvantage these young people labour under making it callous, costly and counter-productive.”

A Deloitte Access Economics study revealed that governments would actually save money by investing in extending care from 18 to 21 years. The study showed that for every dollar spent on extending support to age 21, Australian jurisdictions would save between $1.40 and $2.69, by lowering the costs of social security benefits, hospitalisation and the justice system.

At any given time in South Australia, there are over 3,000 children and young people in out of home care, with the vast majority of these being in either foster care or kinship care.

In 2014-15 Government run residential care in South Australia cost $235,371 per child, per annum which equates to $646 per night.

By way of contrast a Foster Family is paid just $18,272 per annum for caring for a 16-17 year-old.