Allow youth to stay in care placements to 21

Teenagers in state care are abandoned by the system when they turn 18.

Just under two years ago, people gathered in the Victorian State Library to launch the Home Stretch campaign, which calls on all state governments to raise the age a young person can remain in a care placement from 18 to 21 years.

Home Stretch came together because there had been too many young people who, having been cared for and looked after by the state, were cast adrift at the tender age of 15–17, with all formal support ending.

As a result of current Victorian policy, many of these teenagers move from couch to couch as they struggle to find accommodation. Many are referred to youth refuges, some end up in jail and others tragically end their lives when it all becomes too much to bear.

Within a year of exiting their care placement on their 18th birthday, half of these young people will be homeless, in prison, a new parent or unemployed in their first twelve months. Two-thirds of Australia’s young homeless population have recently left care and 35% will have had five places of abode in their first 12 months.

Two years ago, Home Stretch said enough is enough. It is time the Victorian government caught up with the rest of the world and acted like a good “parent” by supporting these young people, if they need it, until they are 21 years old.

Parents know you don’t turf out your child just because they have turned the “magic” age of 18 and can legally drink and vote. About 85% of Victorian 18–21 year olds are still living at home with their parents. Yet a group of young people who have not been lucky enough to have parents care for them, have all formal support severed at 18 years.

I doubt Premier Daniel Andrews would do that to his children, nor would Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy. This is why we are calling on the parties in the forthcoming election to announce that, if they are elected to government, they will legislate to support the option of a young person to remain in their care placement until they are 21.

There are more than 9000 young people in care and about 800 15–17-year-olds exit care every year. When they enter care they are told it can only be extended until they turn 18. The child carries the anxiety of what will happen to them from day one. Despite being a child of the state, they are given no special state privilege to help them on their way. It’s uncompromising, abrupt and has a devastating impact on these young people.

This year, the Tasmanian and South Australian governments committed to extend the age of care from 18 to 21. Victoria is falling behind.

A recent study by ReachTEL, commissioned by Home Stretch, found that 76% of Victorians support extending the age of care from 18 to 21. The leaders of Victoria’s major parties must hear this evidence, hear the anguish and anxiety of young people and let Victorians know that they will legislate to authorise the option of extending care through to 21.