Poor transition processes are driving young care leavers into homelessness: report
Exploring pathways for young people leaving care
30 Sep 2021
For young people leaving out-of-home care (OHC), within four years:
- 54% experienced homelessness
- 70% attended an emergency department; 53% had a hospital admission.
- 11% had a hospital admission for mental health; 8% for self-harm
- 22% made an emergency presentation for mental health; 20% for self-harm
- 10% received a custodial youth justice sentence and 21% received a community sentence
Four years after leaving state administered out-of-home care (OHC), young people are facing soaring rates of homelessness, hospital presentations and admissions for mental health concerns or self-harm and interactions with the justice system, AHURI research has revealed.
The research, ‘Accommodating transition: improving housing outcomes for young people leaving OHC’, was undertaken for AHURI by researchers from RMIT University, Curtin University and Monash University, and examined the housing, homelessness, mental health, alcohol and drug and juvenile justice service usage pathways for young people leaving care in Victoria and Western Australia.
In 2018–19 across Australia, 3,357 young people aged 15 to 17 years left care: 871 young people (148 Indigenous and 723 non-Indigenous) in Victoria and 280 (144 Indigenous and 136 non-Indigenous) young people in Western Australia.
Using Victorian Government data from the 1,848 young people who’d left care in 2013 and 2014 the study revealed that, in the four years after they’d left care, 54% experience homelessness; 11 per cent were admitted to hospital for a mental health issue (and 22 per cent went to an emergency clinic due to a mental health issue); 8 per cent were admitted to hospital for self-harm; and 31 per cent had received either a custodial or community youth justice sentence.
The rates of service use by OHC leavers are much greater than for other young Victorians; with hospital admissions 2.7 times greater; emergency presentations 4.5 times greater; alcohol/drug treatment 21 times greater; homelessness services 17.5 times greater; and youth justice clients 9.6 times greater.
‘Our research found a distinct lack of transitional planning for young people and this exacerbates the fact that care leavers have few options, limited material, social and family supports, and few or no safety nets to fall back on should they experience hardship or difficulty,’ says lead researcher, Associate Professor Robyn Martin of RMIT University. ‘The statutory authority who facilitated the removal of the child from their family is legally and morally responsible for their wellbeing and this should extend to transitional arrangements from care.’
Organisations that provide supports to young care leavers, particularly from the not-for-profit sector and leaving care agencies as well as the care leavers, confirmed that there is little coordination of leaving care services. The usual experience was that if post-care planning occurred, it was rushed and undertaken close to the time the young person turned 18.
The research proposes national minimum standards and auditing processes for young people leaving state care with planning beginning well before the formal exit from state care, with a well-developed plan and accommodation options clearly articulated.
‘Since our data collection was completed, a number of jurisdictions including Victoria and WA have extended the transition from OHC age from 18 to 21 years. We welcome those developments including particularly Victoria’s introduction of a guaranteed housing allowance for those leaving residential care as well as foster care and kinship care,’ says Associate Professor Martin.
‘Nevertheless, all jurisdictions have work to do to ensure that care leavers are supported to develop the skills, information and knowledge they identify they need to successfully transition from care. We also propose a national, minimum leaving care age of 25 years benchmarked by the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.’
‘There should be no exit into homelessness or inappropriate housing. It is essential that care leavers are closely involved in the development and implementation of the plan. They are the experts of their lives and know what they need.’