Last Friday, 2nd December, the Centre hosted the launch of Young People Transitioning from Out-of-Home Care: International Research, Policy and Practice the new book from Philip Mendes.
This book challenges and revises existing ways of thinking about leaving care policy, practice and research at regional, national and international levels. Bringing together contributors from fifteen countries, it covers a range of topical policy and practice issues within national, international or comparative contexts. These include youth justice, disability, access to higher education, the role of advocacy groups, ethical challenges and cultural factors.
Our patron Professor Emeritus Dorothy Scott OAM had the honour of officially launching the book, followed by a talk from Philip Mendes which you can read below.
“The first thing I want to do – with extreme pleasure – is to thank a number of people. They are notably:
- Dorothy Scott for so kindly launching our book, and speaking with the wisdom of her many years of experience, knowledge and expertise about the content of the text. Much appreciated.
- Deb Tsorbaris and the Centre for Excellence team for so generously hosting the launch, and making this a memorable event for all.
- Paul McDonald and Anglicare for sponsoring the refreshments, and ensuring that everyone remembers the link between scholarship and advocacy in regards to the valuable Home Stretch campaign.
- My co-editor Pamela Snow for her long-standing collaboration, and coping with my often demanding and impatient approach to research.
- And the many brave young people who have told us their stories in the research projects discussed in this book. I hope their courage and resilience will soon be reflected in the policy reform that they so justly deserve.
As many of you know, I have been researching leaving care policy and practice for nearly 20 years. In some ways, it has been a frustrating process. Every single Victorian government Minister during this period has been provided with evidence from local and international research of the need for universal post-care supports for care leavers till at least 21 years of age. None could say they didn’t know the need existed or that extended support would result in both social and economic benefits, but action has been limited.
As will be noticeable from reading the chapter on England in our book, we are at least 15 years behind their legislation and policy. In 2001 following much concern about the limitations of the discretionary Children’s Act, they introduced the Leaving Care Act which imposed a duty on local governments to provide advice and support to all care leavers till the age of 21 years, and up to 24 years for those still in education and training.
To be sure, there has been significant policy and practice improvements in Victoria over the past decade, and the profile of leaving care issues within the government and non-government child welfare sector, amongst researchers and in the media has increased significantly. The good intentions are there, but they are just not backed up by serious funding and resources. It would take about an extra $50 million a year to provide effective universal support for the approximately 2000 young people who leave care in Victoria in each three-year period.
That sounds like a lot of money, but actually very little when you compare to the 443 million dollars Victoria already spends on out-of-home care each year without even counting a further 284 million on child protection and family support services per year. And remembering that the current withdrawal of support at 18 years may result in the young person becoming homeless or involved in offending or long-term reliant on income security payments, and mean that the earlier expenditure of 443 million is completely wasted.
But why have our governments failed to act? In the book introduction, we talk about a number of possible factors. One is that children in care still seem to be stigmatized (a bit like illegitimate children used to be) as unworthy of the same supports as their non-care peers.
Another factor is the budgetary cost, but as the Anglicare Home Stretch campaigns cost-benefit analysis clearly shows, greater investment in care leavers in the short to medium term will reduce government costs in the longer term by much greater levels. Just a few years more spending will result in massive savings in housing, criminal justice, mental health etc. down the track.
Perhaps the key barrier to policy reform is that child protection and out-of-home care continues to be driven by a crisis intervention approach focused on rescuing disadvantaged children from abuse or neglect by bad families. This model arguably places less emphasis on promoting the aspirations and long-term well-being of those who are rescued.
But in my opinion, our government has both a moral and legal obligation to devote sufficient resources to ensure that children and young people in and leaving care have optimal opportunities. Guardianship of their welfare does not at the age of 18 years suddenly become somebody else’s responsibility.
I still think we spend too much time listening to academics like myself and service providers, rather than promoting the voice of care leavers themselves. So my suggestion is as follows: every care leaver should be interviewed about their experiences good, bad or in-between when they are about to graduate from care, and their views – de-identified and only with their permission – placed on a relevant government or NGO website.
And the media should be given access by the government to a selection of these young people every year as a means of ensuring that the out-of-home care and leaving care system is effectively meeting the needs of service users.
You can buy the book here.
Associate Professor Philip Mendes teaches Social Policy and Community Development, and is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work. His key research areas include young people transitioning from out-home-care, income security including compulsory income management, social workers and policy practice, illicit drugs policy, and Indigenous social policy. He is a member of the Transitions to Adulthood for Young People Leaving Public Care International Research Group, and a member of the Sydney Myer Fund Poverty and Disadvantage Grants Committee. He is the author or editor of 11 books, and the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed academic journal articles and book chapters.