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.

New resources and a learning game for young people leaving care

A group of young people with care experience boldly reclaimed the term ‘GOM’ (for Guardianship of Minister) with the recent launch of the GOM Central website and the GOM City phone app.

The launch was the culmination of seven months of hard work by project manager Eleanor Goodbourn and the focus group of people who were, or who had recently been, in state care.

‘The need for a project like this had been discussed long before I arrived in April,’ she said.

‘Relationships Australia SA has been providing post care support services for a long time now but were aware that there were some young people who were not accessing service in the current form.

‘Was there a way to support and assist young people who did not access services? In particular, we thought about those who had left care and suddenly found themselves isolated and lacking some of the basic skills you need to get along living on your own.

‘We ran an online survey, testing some ideas about a website and brought the results back to our focus group.  The idea of a game app. caught the imagination of the focus group right away and that became the germ of GOM City.

GOM City

Mighty Kingdom, who are a locally-based but internationally known game developer came on board for the game app.  It was their first venture into social learning games and they were very enthusiastic.

‘Playing the GOM City game teaches some basic skills like budgeting, remembering important events and managing a household.  But the current form of the game could be only the beginning.  There is huge potential in the framework of the game to add in other levels to incorporate other skills.

‘We have made sure that the skills taught in the game align with the Australian Core Skills Framework so those skills can be formally recognised in other domains.  We will be looking for funds to develop this aspect further in the future.

‘You can download the app. free at the iOS App Store or from Google play.

GOM Central

‘The GOM Central website is for all young people in care or who have been in care.  We’ve got a lot of information and links that they can dip into any time when they need it.  We also have a number of videos featuring young people with stories about their time in care, letting them know that they are not alone and they have experiences in common with others. They also share advice and information. One of things we learned in focus groups is how important peer to peer learning is with this group of people.

‘The site also hosts a blog which offers visitors the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge.

‘The young people who have been on this journey with us are the real heroes. They generously shared their ideas and experiences and trialled the games – and you may see some of them on the videos!’


Care leavers need our support beyond 18

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

A few weeks ago my office conducted a poll about extending support for children in care.  Our readership[1] of 1700 overwhelmingly supported the extension of assistance to young people in state care beyond the current deadline of their 18th birthday[2].  Many cited the very poor outcomes for care leavers under the current regime and others pointed out that most young adults in South Australia continue to need, and receive, support from their birth families well into their twenties.

In the light of this, I was very pleased when the Government announced its intention to fulfil an election promise to extend financial support for foster and relative-care families to allow young people exiting care to stay on in those placements.  There is no doubt that providing stability for those young people will make it more likely that they will be able to complete their education and make a more gradual and individualised transition into employment and housing.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that around ten percent of young people in care will not benefit from these changes. These are the approximately 500 young people who do not live in a family-based care but live in emergency or residential care accommodation. Sometimes they have not been able to be placed in a family because a suitable match is not available but, more commonly, there are simply not enough home-based placements to meet the need.

The experience of young people in residential care varies greatly.  Some live in smaller residential care properties which provide a more family-like environment, with a stable group of residents and a supportive and familiar team of carers creating a nurturing home.  For others, especially those in the larger buildings housing eight to twelve residents, their experience is one of instability, tension and danger where residents with a variety of needs are placed quite randomly, and frequently express their unhappiness by running away. These risks and conditions were clearly identified in Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s 2016 report, The Life They Deserve.

Children who have lived in residential care often have particularly pressing needs beyond the age of 18, reflecting the challenges they experienced before coming into care, and the acknowledged risks inherent in residential care environments. Trauma can delay development and affect a person’s ability to function fully and successfully. A number may be ‘technically’ 18 but significantly ‘younger’ in their understanding and maturity and ability to negotiate a complex world beyond the care system.

So, what kind of support can be built for these young people beyond their 18th birthdays?

Often children in residential care approach their 18th birthday with a mixture of excitement about their new independence and high anxiety about how they will manage outside a system they have relied on.

Just like young people in foster care, some young people in residential care would definitely benefit from being able to continue in the only home they know until they are 21, supported by workers with whom they have trusting and supportive relationships until they are mature enough to live independently. Many others would choose to leave, either because their experience has not been a safe or pleasant one or to escape the stigma of being in care or just to spread their wings.

Allowing young people to stay on beyond their 18th birthday, in a similar way to those in family-based care, would not be straightforward.   In residential care houses staff might find that accommodating the needs of adult late-teens at the same time as providing a safe and appropriate environment for younger children is challenging.

Fortunately, other jurisdictions and other services have models and lessons that can be learned.  In the UK, care leavers have the option of services from their local authority and a ‘personal adviser’ til age 25. For residential care leavers this Foyer model of transitional youth accommodation combined with support services would make an excellent starting point.  There is one operating today in Port Adelaide[3].  I expect colleagues in child protection could point me to a dozen other models that could be part of a solution, too.

The funding to support foster and kinship care beyond 18 is a welcome initiative and will provide significant benefits for young people who are comfortable in stable placements.  For those who choose to leave family-based care or for those in residential care who do not have this option the needs identified by our poll respondents remain un-addressed.

I will seek opportunities to engage with the government and other individuals and services in our community to ensure that the post-18 needs of young people in residential care are not underestimated or overlooked.

[1] Current subscribers to the Guardian’s Information Service.

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

[3]Ladder Port Adelaide Foyer

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.

Should the age of leaving state care be extended beyond 18?


The public poll in which we posed this question opened on 22 May and closed on 30 May 2016. Thanks to the 239 people who responded to the poll and the 19 who left comments.

This is how you voted


Here is a summary of the comments:

All 19 of the commentators agreed in some way to the extension of the leaving age:

  • most 18 year olds are not mature enough to go-it-alone and many receive ongoing support from parents even beyond 25
  • many young people exiting care at 18 do not have stable and secure support groups at that time and need help and time to develop them
  • the trauma and disruption to their lives that many children in care have experienced means that their educational progress and personal maturity may be delayed compared to those in the general population
  • 18 to 25 is a critical time in education and support is critical and disruption is damaging during this time
  • 18 to 25 is a key time to intervene to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and abuse among young people in care
  • many young people become homeless after leaving care at 18 and support beyond this age would help
  • it is inconsistent that Centrelink has factored an expectation of continuing parental support to age 25 in its benefit structure while state government support cuts out at 18
  • money invested in supporting young people beyond 18 would be more than repaid in the saving from decreased contact with the welfare, health and justice systems later in life
  • young people with a disability should receive particular consideration

Many noted practical factors that should be considered:

  • young people are adults at 18 and so ongoing care would need to be voluntary and negotiated
  • current  post-placement services are insufficient to do the work that would be required and many more suitably trained people would be needed
  • continuing financial support for foster carers would encourage and support an ongoing relationship at a critical time
  • the relationship with a  foster family will need to evolve and develop as it does with other families as the child grows older
  • a young person at 18 should be allowed to discuss exiting care in an interview with an independent body prior to making a decision
  • perhaps there should be an extension to 21 years and then beyond that if the the young person is still in study

All of the comments are below in full and comments are still open if you would like to take the conversation further.

You may also be interested in the results of our last survey asking where extra funding should go to reform child protection in our state.

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

A nest-egg for young people leaving care

picture of Pam Simmons

Guardian Pam Simmons

A young woman we have been working with on a project here at the Office of the Guardian is setting up house, for the second time.  The first attempt didn’t work out and she lost most of the few household goods she had bought. The Transition to Independent Living Allowance of $1500 was spent the first time around. She is 19 and she has no family to help with even a fridge or a bed, some basic furniture and a few creature comforts.  She is determined though and without a trace of self-pity.

Children’s Trust Funds (CTF) were launched in the UK in 2005 for all children, although since replaced by Junior Individual Savings Accounts.  A CTF was a long-term, tax-free savings account which the government contributed to with a modest grant at birth but with a little more for children from low-income families.  Top-up payments were made at some birthdays and with more for those in low-income families. The funds accumulate and mature on their 18th birthday.

A great deal has been learnt about individual trust funds. Contrary to their equalising purpose they can further entrench inequality because parents on higher incomes are more likely to contribute funds and to assist with wise financial decisions post-18.  Also, young people who struggled with learning may have benefited from financial support before they turned 17.

With these lessons in mind it is an idea worth exploring further, at least for children in care if not for all children.  It could work something like this.  On the granting of a long-term care and protection order an account is opened with a deposit equivalent to the amount the child would have received from birth and then topped up each year. An additional lump sum is deposited at 16 years to assist with leaving care costs.  A limited amount can be withdrawn before 18 for educational purposes.  It could be matched dollar for dollar between Commonwealth and State governments.  Financial management skills and assistance would be part of the package.

In South Australia this would be supplemented by the Dame Roma Mitchell Trust Fund for Children and Young People, which provides small grants to children and young people who are or who have recently been in care.   This Fund has made a difference to the opportunities young people have for educational attainment and in developing skills and interests.  It goes some way to narrow the gap between what the state department can provide and what many other young people get from parents.

What we have in place for young people leaving care is inadequate and a trust fund would only be a small part of the answer, but it could even things up a little among young people who get ongoing family support and those who do not.

What if the young woman I mentioned at the start had a small fund of her own to draw on so that she could furnish her room and pay for her driving lessons which would mean she could safely get home at midnight from the hotel job she was almost offered?  Such a fund could transform her new venture into homemaking from a time of anxiety into an empowering adventure with an increased chance of success.


Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Meeting

Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from around Australia had their latest twice-yearly gathering in Sydney on 7 and 8 November.

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) promotes children’s rights and participation and ensures the best interests of children are considered in public policy and program development across Australia.

Topics at the meeting included social inclusion, Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander young people and the justice system, children leaving out-of-home care and information sharing and the Commonwealth Privacy Act.

Details of discussions and actions are in the meeting communique PDF.

For further information on the ACCG and the work of Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from across Australia, please contact the ACCG National Convenor, Elizabeth Fraser, on 07 3211 6992.

Get the latest on ACCG activities on our Twitter feed.

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