University of Western Australia: Study finds foster care should extend to age of 21

Young people leaving foster care are facing more problems than ever as they navigate the transition to adulthood, and the age of leaving care must be extended, according to a researcher from The University of Western Australia.

The focus is on improving the outcomes for young people as part of National Child Protection Week which runs from September 5 to 11.

Young people leaving state care systems across Australia have reported experiencing poor outcomes across a range of key life aspects with evidence suggesting they were not accessing services designed to assist them.

Dr Stephan Lund from UWA’s School of Allied Health evaluated the outcomes of two Western Australian trial programs that prioritised the needs of young people entrusted to the care of the state.

The findings, published in Parity recommended extending the age of foster care to 21 to significantly improve care exit options.

The Home Stretch WA Trial was designed to test the support services for participants transitioning out of care in the Perth metropolitan area.

Of the trial participants, 100 per cent of the carers and young people offered a staying-on agreement beyond the age of 18 took up the opportunity.

Following its success, there was a commitment from the State Government to make the Home Stretch trial a permanent part of the post care system.

The Towards Independent Adulthood Trial implemented a youth work-led model, focusing on education, employment and housing accessibility.

Following the trial 70 per cent of participants were in secure housing and nearly 60 per cent engaged in some kind of post-school education or training.

Dr Lund said young people who had lived in care were a highly vulnerable and disadvantaged group who required more support beyond the current model.

“Embedding the extended care model into the child welfare system is successful and improves outcomes for young people,” Dr Lund said.

“The promising results of the two trials will help to elevate the voice of young people and carers into the development of service systems.”

Dr Stephan Lund
“The scene is set for the introduction of new, evidence-informed leaving care services in WA.”

UWA has launched a new Graduate Certificate in Child Protection Practice course for caseworkers, managers and policy makers to equip them with the knowledge and skills to respond to child protection challenges.