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Support young people in state care to the age of 21

Victoria, it’s time to follow Tasmania’s lead.

As part of the recent election campaign, Tasmania’s major parties pledged bipartisan support for extending support to young people leaving state care to the age of 21.

As Tasmanian community groups said, this is a historic moment and an example all states and territories should follow.

In modern families, it’s rare for young people to leave home at age 18 and become fully independent. High rental, education and living costs mean many young people remain in the family home, with nearly a quarter of young adults still living at home between ages 20-34.

This is a time when young adults develop higher-level reasoning skills, learn to balance their study and/or work commitments, and are discovering more about themselves and the world. During this stage, most young adults have the support of their family and community, who they can turn to for advice.

However young people in out-of-home care often have no choice but to leave home at age 18, receiving little support or assistance from the Victorian Government. Despite often not being developmentally ready or having the family or social supports to turn to if things go wrong, we expect these vulnerable young people to navigate this challenging transition alone.

Not only is it unfair to expect these young people to achieve independence earlier and faster than their peers, it also does not set them up for success.

People who leave care often end up experiencing homelessness or housing instability, higher rates of mental illness, unemployment or underemployment, substance abuse, contact with the justice system, early parenthood and low educational attainment.

VCOSS supports the Home Stretch campaign, calling for young people in state care to be supported up until the age of 21. The Victorian Government has an opportunity in the 2018-19 State Budget to respond to this call. Doing so would provide young people with the time and support they need to develop their independent living skills prior to transitioning from out-of-home care. Specifically, this should include:

  • access to safe and secure accommodation, including the option to stay in out-of-home care
  • trauma-informed counselling
  • opportunities to stay engaged with education and training
  • help finding work; and
  • guidance to build independent living skills.

Not only would this set up our young people for better life outcomes, but it has been estimated that extending the care-leaving age to 21 would return $1.84 for each $1 spent.

A worthwhile investment on all fronts.