Extending the benefits of foster and kinship care

picture of Penny Wright

By Guardian Penny Wright

In South Australia, there are currently 3418 children and young people in foster or kinship care. This represents 85 per cent of children in care.

The benefits of family-based environments for children or young people who cannot live with their own family are well-known. They can provide a stable, safe and secure home where young people experience positive relationships with parental figures and, at their best, feel loved and nurtured.

In addition, kinship care can allow the child or young person to maintain their connections to family, community and culture. Conserving this connection to community, culture and spiritual identity is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

This podcast from Radio National, ‘A Portrait of a Foster Family,’ captures beautifully the joy and challenges of offering kids a home…

For many years, a young person’s 18th birthday has meant an end to most of the support available to them, with the end of payments for their carer or foster parent. Frequently this has meant leaving the home they have known, although some foster and kinship carers continue to offer and provide care if they are able.

Very few young people in Australia face complete independence and an end to care and support on their 18th birthday.  It seems harsh and illogical that we currently have systems that treat young people who have lived in care so differently from those who have grown up with their own families. What might this feel like? We get a sense in this short video of Keira’s Story.

Advocates (including those from our Office) have long been calling on governments to extend support beyond 18 and now a national campaign, ‘HomeStretch’, is working to raise the age of leaving care across Australia. Last month, a symposium in Sydney brought together policy developers, service providers and academics to explore what extending care until 21 across Australia could look like.

According to Home Stretch, within one year of leaving care at 18, 50 per cent of young people will find themselves unemployed, homeless, in jail or a new parent. There is clear evidence that extending care until 21 provides vulnerable young people with extra security as they enter the workforce or further education and pave their way into adulthood. Deloitte Access Economics presented the findings from their Victorian study into the costs and benefits of extending the age of care to 21 and found extensive savings for government in housing supports, justice costs and those relating to alcohol and other drugs, welfare and hospital funding (with better outcomes in mental and physical health, employment, education, social and civic connectedness and a reduction in intergenerational disadvantage).

I attended the symposium and can see that the shift to extending care until 21 for all young people in care would be life changing.

Thankfully, in January of this year, the South Australian government introduced the Stability in Family Based Care program which extended foster/kinship carer support payments for some young people up to the age of 21. Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia have also started to take some action on this.

So far, of about 65 eligible young people in South Australia, 17 have accessed the program. A further four young people yet to turn 18 have been referred to the program and more than 100 are set to become eligible over the next three years.

This is a welcome development in South Australia but currently this option only applies to young people in foster and kinship care. At this stage there is no similar provision for young people living in residential care who often approach their 18th birthday with trepidation, uncertainty and anxiety as they face an end to the structures, support and relationships they have known up to that point.

Extending care for those in foster and kinship care is an important step but we must ensure the remaining young people in our state’s care system are not left behind.

In the words of the campaign, #letsfinishwhatwestarted and #makeit21.

Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18? – Poll results

graph of poll results

A huge ‘thank you’ to the 310 people who responded to the poll and particularly to the 177 who contributed to the over 11,500 words of comments.  It will take us a bit longer to prepare a report that will do justice to the quality and diversity of the comments.  In the meantime, here are the major themes.

The majority of respondents to the poll favoured the extension of support to young people in state care beyond the age of 18.  The reasons they gave were broadly of four types:

  1. Birth parents in our community frequently support their children with accommodation, education, finance and in many practical ways beyond the age of 18.   So should the state as parent.
  2. Children in care often have histories of neglect and abuse leading to developmental delays and the effects of trauma and their schooling is often affected by disrupted childhoods. This diminishes the capacity of many to cope with the responsibilities of adulthood at 18.
  3. High rates of homelessness, teenage pregnancy, mental health problems, substance abuse and unemployment and low levels of education and training demonstrate that many young people exiting care at age 18 are unprepared by the system to cope without further support.
  4. Recent research has demonstrated that human brain development and the capacity for self-regulation continue into the mid-twenties and beyond.

The right to opt out

Some respondents pointed out the legal and civil-liberties problems of extending the age of guardianship beyond 18.  Many stressed that it was essential that care-leavers should have the choice to opt in to the services provided and have a say in what services were made available and how they should access them.  Many stressed the right for young people to opt out of care situations they did not like.

How long should support last?

Many disputed the idea of setting a particular age at which support should cease and proposed that a marker could be used such as completion of education or training, stable accommodation or employment.  Others favoured a professional assessment against a set of psychological indicators to show when a person no longer needed support.

What services should be provided?

A wide range of services and supports were proposed which included financial and other support for foster and kinship families to enable young people to stay on beyond 18 at least until education and training were complete.  Some pointed out existing and proven services that could be extended and developed.  Others noted that current transition planning left many young people unprepared and that extra resourcing and new approach was needed to transition.

A fuller analysis of comments later.

Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18?

picture of girl on jettyMany communities are questioning whether young people leaving state care at their 18th birthday are fully equipped to take on all of the demands of adult life.  Birth families often provide emotional and practical support to their offspring well beyond their teens.

One solution proposed has been to extend the age of leaving care beyond the current 18 years.  Does this deserve serious consideration in South Australia? Please contribute to the conversation via the Guardian’s 30-second poll.


Take me to the poll

We will post the results next week.

Services for young people leaving state care

25 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #14

picture of girl on jettyThe team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report[1].  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first 13 in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3]

Commissioner Nyland was particularly critical of the support provided to young people during and after their transition from care at age 18.  She presented data that showed proper transition planning had never been provided for more than one third of young people exiting care.  Where it had been provided, she said, it had been delivered by under-qualified staff and the support services available were rendered inadequate by a lack of coordination and cooperation between services.

Young people…report receiving limited career planning and little information about what training and employment options may be available to them. All too frequently, young people approach the age of 18 without a clear understanding of how they will access adult services and accommodation.

The Commissioner recommended a change in legislation to oblige the Minister to continue to provide assistance to care leavers up to the age of 25.

Such assistance should specifically include the provision of information about services and resources (especially financial grants and assistance for care leavers); financial and other assistance to obtain housing, education, training and employment; and access to legal advice, health services, counselling and support.

Services funded by government and delivered by non-government organisations should start working with young people well before 18 and continue through the transition period and into adult life.  Analysis of current post-care services usage could be used as an indicator of areas of need.

The Commissioner also recommended a review of the South Australian service model to align it with the principles and practice of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: A nationally consistent approach to planning, commonly known as the National Approach[4]

The Commissioner recommended that a re-invigorated Rapid Response process also be reviewed to extend the range of priority services for young people up to age 25 and that home-based carers be funded to continue supporting care leavers where they were engaged in school, trade or tertiary training until that qualification was completed. 

Independent living programs, she said, needed to be made more flexible about the ages at which young people could be admitted and leave and post-support programs should be more generously resourced to meet the unmet need.  The Commissioner also pointed out the opportunity for Housing SA to develop new housing models more suitable to the needs of care leavers. 

Recognising the central role of smartphones in the lives of many young people, she recommended the development of a smartphone app. to provide readily available information about the range of services available to them during and after transition from care. 

The Commissioner also recommended changes to allow care leavers to see and make copies of documents held by the organisation that had provided services for them more easily.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 to require the Minister to provide or arrange assistance to care leavers aged between 18 and 25 years
  • definition of a range of information services and practical supports to be provided for young people post-care including financial, housing, education, health care, education and training, employment and legal advice
  • payments to home-based carers continued past 18 while young people in their care pursue education and training
  • review of the service model for care leavers to align with the National Approach
  • greater age-flexibility in the provision of independent living programs
  • expansion of the priority services provided under Rapid Response to care leavers up to age 25
  • provision of intensive case management assistance to care leavers identified as particularly vulnerable
  • greater resourcing of post-care services
  • changes to facilitate care leavers’ access to documents about them from carers and organisations that had provided services to them.

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

[2] See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care, Responding to abused or neglected children, Children in care with disabilities, Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Children in care in regional SA.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Protecting children is everyone’s business: National framework for protecting Australia’s children 2009–2020, Canberra, 2009.

LSS helps break the barriers to tertiary success

It was great news when the State Government announced that there would be no course fees to undertake a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course funded under Skills for All TAFE courses for people under guardianship or formerly under guardianship. Getting tertiary training and qualifications is a proven route to employment that can provide financial stability and personal rewards.

Course fees, however, are only one of the barriers that can prevent young people with a care experience from entering and completing further education.

Learner Support Services (LSS) sets out to increase success by addressing those barriers so that students can focus their full energies on study. LSS Case Managers work individually with students in TAFE and some Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to link them up to non-Government and other service providers.

Barriers that students have overcome with support from their case manager are wide-ranging. Issues with transport, accommodation, relations with Centrelink, child care, alcohol and substance abuse and lack of basic skills all have the potential to de-rail student aspirations.

LSS is taking particular care to build relationships between TAFE and RTOs and NGO service providers to ensure that each understands what the other is about and how they can best work together to support students.

Sarah Marshall from the Policy and Intergovernment Relations Unit of the Department of State Development (DSD) explained that LSS was only one of the services to assist people with care experience and other potential students to enter training in TAFE and RTOs.

‘Student Services in any branch of TAFE will be happy to talk to prospective students about career options and learning pathways. Prospective students with care experience can also talk to Student Services about their eligibility to have fees waived, and to access case management support through LSS’, said Sarah.

‘The Department of State Development also funds Career Services available free to people who are on unemployment benefits. You can call the Skills for All Infoline to have an initial chat about what you’d like to do and get information you need on careers, jobs and training. If you’re looking for work Career Services have qualified advisers who can help through one-on-one support.

‘‘We have found that, for many students once they have have started on their study pathway, the intensive, one-on-one service provided by an LSS Case Manager have contributed greatly to their eventual success,’ said Sarah.

For a chat to see what is available and what you are eligible for, call the Skills for All Infoline on 1800 506 266 or visit the Skills for All website at http://www.skills.sa.gov.au/

 

link to GCYP twitter

Designing for leaving care

As the 2010 academic year winds down, 80 third-year architecture students at UniSA will be finalising designs that are tailored to the specific needs of young people who are exiting the care system.

Lecturer in Architecture, Angelique Edmonds, explains that this year’s design studio exercise is a repeat of last year’s successful and award winning project that challenged architecture students to use their design capabilities to address an important social need.

‘We partnered with two community organisations and a private developer to identify three real sites which became the briefs to which the student had to respond.

‘Students heard about the circumstances of young people leaving care from the Guardian, Pam Simmons, and from two young women who had transitioned out of care. They were also given eight client profiles, in the form of narratives, of real but anonymous young people and their situations.’

Architecture student Tess Pritchard, now in her masters year, recalls how the lives of her young clients were much different to her own.

‘Many were isolated with no feeling of belonging anywhere and with very little money and support from family and friends.  I had no idea about what they were experiencing.

‘In my design I tried to provide good private living spaces where they could develop their independent living skills as well as common areas where they could come together to build social networks.

‘I provided a garden space where the residents could grow food for their own use or to sell at a nearby market.’

Former CREATE worker Emily Rozee, who presented to the students, said that young people rarely have the opportunity to provide direct input into the design and development of their physical environment.

‘Many of the UniSA students had not previously been aware of the issues faced by young people who are unable to live with their birth family.’

The 2009 pilot project received a UniSA Chancellor’s Award endorsing it as ‘an example of a best practice community engagement activity’.

Are we teaching children and young people in state care to be homeless?

Amanda Shaw - Senior Advocate

Children and young people are brought into the care and protection system through no fault of their own and have experienced abuse and neglect. Collectively, it is our responsibility to ensure that each child is provided with care, stability, security and safety to ensure their physical, cultural, emotional and social development.

The challenges facing care and protection agencies are well documented. There are increasing numbers of child abuse and neglect notifications, increasing numbers of children in state care and little choice in out of home care options.

It is a sad reality that some children and young people in state care are homeless; some use (what was called the) Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services and some do not have safe, secure and permanent placements. Actual numbers are difficult to report but the monitoring of the circumstances for children and young people in care by the South Australian Guardian for Children and Young People provides anecdotal evidence of homelessness.

Early in my career I met a number of young people under the guardianship of the Minister who were temporarily accommodated in SAAP services. Additionally, CREATE’s Report Card 2009[1] shows that more than a third of young people leaving care at the age of 18 years are homeless at some point within a year.

[Read the rest of this article in a PDF file.]


[1] McDowall, J.J. (2009) CREATE Report Card 2009 – Transitioning from Care: Tracking Progress. Sydney: CREATE Foundation.

Turning 18 – Youth Advisors – November 2009

For young people in care, turning eighteen can be a huge step.  It can be really exciting but quite scary at the same time.

In this post, some of the Guardian’s Youth Advisors answer questions and share their experiences about what it was like to turn eighteen and leave care.

What was helpful to you?

  • Having a strong relationship with my social worker was the key – it was comforting to know that there was someone there I could trust to answer my questions, to help with my fears and to teach me new things.
  • My support network was great. I used to catch up with one of my teachers each week to discuss any problems and this helped to balance my new found independence and home life with my schooling.
  • Living on my own for the very first time was really daunting. It was helpful to keep my friends close, inviting them home and keeping busy.
  • Being able to learn from my friends’ experiences helped as many of them already had houses of their own.
  • Accepting help from my friends and their families. Sometimes it can be hard, but it is important to know that it is okay to ask for help.
  • Getting out and meeting new people which helped to build my confidence.

What do you wish you had known?

  • I wish I had been more prepared … what it actually meant and what opportunities were available in my local community.
  • I wish I had taken moving out more seriously … taking more time to learn how to cook and how to manage a budget
  • That it’s okay to ask others for help – no one has to do everything on their own.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?

  • Asked lots more questions before leaving care.
  • Reached out for help sooner, rather than later.
  • Focused on getting involved in things that would help build my self esteem and reduce my social isolation.
  • Learn how to manage money and a budget.
  • Gained employment before moving out…I didn’t know then how expensive everything is!!

What things did you learn?

  • I learnt a lot about myself, as well as how to budget, cook, manage my time … The good thing is that no one is there to judge you, so just take your time.
  • How to make my own decisions, no matter how scary they seemed.
  • That I had the potential to make it on my own, with the help of my support network.
  • It was okay to be afraid and to reach out for help whenever I needed it – and that didn’t make me a failure.

The world of work

Our Youth Advisors bring a diversity of experiences and views. Some of them are in paid employment; some of them are studying at school, TAFE or university. One of the things they have in common is that they are volunteers. Youth Advisors Sara and David recall their first experiences of work.

Dave the BuilderDavid: My first job was as a café assistant and birthday party host. It was a paid position and I learnt quickly that income is there one day and gone the next. It certainly taught me that I needed to budget more effectively!

I really liked the work environment and the chance towork with children. One of the best things was that we were to dress up for birthday parties. I think my best outfit was Bob the Builder. I had a lot of fun working there.

The thing that I remember most was having to go through the play equipment and make sure it was clean! That was a huge job but also an excellent excuse to play on the equipment.

That job taught me how to act in a professional manner in the workplace and that has been very helpful. It also taught me basic skills that I’ve been able to use in all other positions. I just wish I could remember how to use the coffee machine again!

Sara files herself_edited-1 copySara: My first job was a government traineeship within the Office for Youth. It was a great experience – it made me feel empowered and I felt that I was starting to achieve my own goals in life.

I got to do a lot of cool things – I started a project and worked with some kids at the Magill Flexi Centre and I also got to work with Che Cockatoo-Collins on an awards ceremony.

That job gave me on-the-job skills but also the chance to study at the same time. It gave me an opportunity to learn about government and get my foot in the door for other exciting jobs.

My first meal – the Youth Advisors confess

Nothing symbolises more the freedom and responsibility of being out on your own than cooking a meal. When food does not appear on the table and take-aways become boring or expensive, there is no escape – as three of our Youth Advisors recall.

David

David

I can’t remember the very first thing but it was probably something like spaghetti bolognese and it was probably terrible. My first housemate was a bit better at cooking than me so he did that and I did the cleaning…When it comes to cooking my specialty is gingerbread houses – that and biscuits and cakes generally.

john

Ed

I did a bit of cooking in residential care – helping out in the kitchen. But when it came to living by myself, I just figured it out. You need to say “I can do this.” Mostly it was simple stuff like pasta or fried steak with salad which worked pretty well.   I made a curry once. I put in the usual veggies and some beans and then about eight of these little red chillies. I couldn’t eat it, it was so hot. My Mum and sister managed to eat a bit but not me. I’ve never made a curry since.

Sara

Sara

I can’t really remember the first thing I ever cooked! But when I first moved out of home, stir fries were the best things that ever happened to me. Just chuck it all in stir it around for a while and eat it! Cheap and healthy… that’s how it was! Here is a cheap, easy as, YUMMY recipe.

Sara’s Fettucini Carbonara

Ok… you need

  • Fettucini
  • 2 onions roughly diced
  • about ½ kilo of bacon roughly chopped
  • 3 mushrooms cut into slices (if you like them)
  • small tub of cream
  • a teaspoon of nutmeg to taste
  • ground black peppercorns to taste

Here we go… Start by preparing the pasta. Fettucini is awesome, cook as per directions on back of packet. Once you have started boiling pasta, start on the sauce.

Fry onion, bacon and mushroom in frypan. Grind black pepper into frypan as cooking. Add a teaspoon of nutmeg and stir.

Once onions and bacon have browned reduce heat to low and add cream to fry pan. Drain pasta from the saucepan, once TOTALLY DRAINED.. put pasta back into the saucepan and add sauce.. mix all around and… EAT