Victoria’s out-of-home care system has been the subject of scrutiny for many years now, without much change. Many within the sector believe it is time to change the way the system works, to ensure vulnerable young people leaving care aren’t disadvantaged.
Going through your teenage years can be a dramatic and difficult process at the best of times. Combine these years with a traumatic, unstable upbringing and the results could be devastating. Susie Stubbings understands this better than most. Her and her foster son, who recently turned 18, have so far made it through these chaotic years and it is clear he is not yet ready to leave home.
Yet leaving a foster care home at the age of 18 is the expectation of the current system. When a child in foster care reaches this age, funding and resources are no longer provided to the carer or the child. This is called being “aged out” and is under scrutiny.
Anglicare, Victoria’s largest foster care agency, believes this abrupt end to the support they rely on does not appropriately equip foster care children for what is ahead of them. Anglicare and many people in the sector, like Susie Stubbings, believe this system is flawed and are calling for the government to allow foster care children to stay in the system until the age of 21. It is these crucial three years in a young adult’s life that Stubbings believes could be the difference between having a stable, organised life and living on the streets.
“At 18, your heads not there. You’re just starting to come out of this chaotic phase and you’re just starting to think about what it’s going to take to have a meaningful life,” Ms Stubbings says.
“You’re just starting to settle down, and then you’re told that’s it. A carer may or may not be able to financially support the person. And if the person doesn’t have the capacity to work or study yet, then they can’t get any support from Centrelink.”
When Stubbings’ foster care son turned 13 and started high school, she made the decision to leave her full-time teaching job. Due to the unstable nature of her son’s upbringing and the foreseeable tribulations that this new phase in his life would bring, Stubbings wanted to place her full attention onto his care.
Now, even though she no longer receives funding and resources, Stubbings has continued to care for her foster son. She knows that after what her son has been through during these “chaotic years” he is not emotionally ready or well equipped enough to make a life on his own, like many 18-year-olds regardless of their upbringing.
“Our five years of teenage years were hugely chaotic and we’re just coming out of it. We’re both shell-shocked. But he’s just ready to start being a teenager now, not an adult,”
Fortunately Anglicare are providing Stubbings with some assistance until her son is capable of leaving home. However, Stubbings is an exception, and the outcome is not always suitable when the funding and resources are cut off. If a foster carer is unable to support their child anymore, the options are slim.
“When you’re 18, but you’re really only emotionally 16, and you’ve had to leave home, what are you doing? Negative things to survive, like stealing,”
“These children do not have the capability to leave at 18, it is horrifying.”
More on this issue can be read here.