For many young Aussies, turning 18 is an exciting time. At this age, you’re officially “free” and afforded every legal entitlement available in our country. To mark this rite of passage, many a youth will set off to the local pub with friends and family and celebrate. They’re the lucky ones.
Sadly, for some young people living in NSW, their reality is in stark contrast. Those living in out-of-home care- otherwise known as foster care- are all too aware that when they legally transition to adulthood, the financial and casework support provided to their carers during their earlier years will cease.
Living independently by 18 years of age can be challenging for any teen, even those raised in a loving and stable home environment by their family. Yet for those vulnerable youth who have experienced trauma to such a degree that it led to them being forcibly removed from their family and placed into care in the first place, it can be especially difficult.
While their experiences in care may not live up to the same utopia Cinderella experienced at the ball, come the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday, they too face the challenging prospect of being stripped of the support they have come to appreciate.
Carers who provide homes to children and young people are not motivated to do so for money. Rather, they recognise that these young people need nurturing, support, and guidance and answer the call out of the goodness of their hearts. Despite this, providing a loving home to children and young people does not come cheaply. As such, the NSW Government provides funding to out-of-home-care agencies to recruit and support foster carers, including practical measures such as case management, training and a financial allowance - until the young person in their care turns 18.
Anyone with an 18-year-old in their life would agree that while legally they are of an age where they can take out a loan, get a tattoo or vote, they still benefit from adult support.
Gone are the days when this coming of age was, in most cases, automatically associated with fleeing the family nest. Indeed, report after report shows the average age Aussies leave home continues to rise and is now creeping towards a person’s mid-twenties. This trend is not surprising given the chronic lack of rental properties, the rising cost of living and the quest for expensive post-school studies that are sought after by so many.
Yet as well as providing a much-valued financial buffer by living at home, there’s also often the added benefit of having the guidance of someone who is older and wiser to help navigate the often-complex realities associated with adulthood, including workplace demands, romantic relationships and assessing competing priorities. Research also suggests that those who stay at home until their early to mid twenties, go on to be more financially stable and educated than those who do not.
And yet, we do not place judgement on the carers who can longer provide care for these young people once they turn 18. Until now, there has not been adequate recognition by the NSW Government for the vital role carers provide in our community or ongoing support provided to them so that they continue to play a significant role in these young people’s lives without the burden of being significantly out of pocket.
As such, this recent announcement that the NSW Government will extend financial support for foster carers to care for young people until they turn 21 is an overdue but welcomed development. For those who choose to leave that family unit, there’s also financial help available.
The Your Choice Your Future package builds on what the NSW Government previously provided and reflects years of passionate lobbying by the NSW Home Stretch committee. The changes, to be introduced next year, will ensure young people in out-of-home care across NSW will experience the same benefits as their counterparts around the country.
In speaking with carers and young people who have recently transitioned out of care, they have expressed that this extension of support will create additional stability and help them as they work towards independence and achieving their goals.
As well as benefiting these young people and their carers directly, the wider community will also bear witness to the benefits this investment in our young people is expected to yield. For example, other states that have already extended the support available to young people in care and their carers have reported a reduced risk of youth homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency and young people in jail and greater engagement in education and employment.
Most significantly though, the announcement by Premier Perrottet is an acknowledgement to young people in care that their community cares about them and wants to support them to succeed in life, whatever pathway they choose.