Out-of-home care: Young Victorians face homelessness, hospitalisation

New research has found 54 per cent of young Victorians leaving out-of-home care have experienced homelessness. Picture: iStock

More than half the young Victorians who leave out-of-home care such as foster homes are experiencing homelessness and being admitted to hospital within four years, startling new research has revealed.

The study tracked 1848 youths who had vacated OHC – a temporary living arrangement for children and young people who cannot live in their family home – in the state to also find 70 per cent had attended an emergency department, 22 per cent for mental health.

Eleven per cent were ultimately hospitalised for mental health reasons and 8 per cent for self harm.

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The research – undertaken for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute by RMIT, Curtin and Monash Universities – also determined almost a third of OHC leavers received a custodial or community youth justice sentence, and they were 21 times more likely to have alcohol and drug treatment than other young Victorians.

About 10,300 children and young people live in OHC in Victoria at any one time, according to the Department of Education and Training. Of these, about 2000 are younger than five.

Types of OHC include foster care, kinship care (living with a relative or family friend), and residential care (in a home staffed by carers).

RMIT University Associate Professor Robyn Martin said her team’s research revealed “a distinct lack of transitional planning” for OHC leavers.

“This exacerbates the fact 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,” she said.

The research found there was only limited, and often non-existent, planning processes around young people leaving OHC, leaving many “ill prepared to live independently at the age of 18 years”.

Emergency Department

Emergency presentations are 4.5 times greater for OHC leavers compared to other young Victorians.

It accordingly proposed national minimum standards – including the instalment of a minimum leaving age of 25 – and a requirement for a well-developed plan with clearly articulated accommodation options to be created, “with planning beginning well before the formal exit from state care”.

Associate Professor Martin did welcome the fact Victoria had recently extended the transition from OHC age from 18 to 21 years, and introduced a “guaranteed housing allowance” for those leaving residential, foster and kinship care.

“There should be no exit into homelessness or inappropriate housing,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

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