Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (19:09): I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
In Victoria, right now, there are around 11 000 children unable to live with their parents, and find themselves in the statutory care of the state. That is, their legal guardian or parent is the government.
This may be the result of violence in the home, or issues with mum or dad’s mental health.
Most of these children are living in foster or kinship care, but around 6 per cent live in residential or group homes.
Currently in Victoria, exit care planning begins at 15 years and all children must leave the nest by their 18th birthday. That is around 800 young people leaving care in Victoria each year.
When we think about who these children are, the trauma that these children may already have experienced in their young lives, there is no doubt that many will remain vulnerable.
While 85 per cent of 18- to 21-year-olds in Australia are still living at home with one or both parents, we expect our care leavers to fend for themselves at 18.
As Kiera, a former foster child, has explained:
When you turn 18, amongst us foster kids it is called D-Day—pretty much you’re stepping into oblivion. It’s a horrible, terrifying awful day for most kids.
Care and support, financial and emotional, is withdrawn by the state. It is abrupt and it is no surprise that within the first 12 months of leaving care, 50 per cent of our care leavers will be homeless, in jail or unemployed.
For these reasons, countries like the USA, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany and Portugal have extended care to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, with incredible results.
To use the USA as an example, increasing the leaving care age halved homelessness, doubled education participation, doubled the odds of employment, saw a 54 per cent reduction in arrests, a 38 per cent reduction in youth pregnancies, and saved around $320 million in the process.
In Leeds, England, the year after they extended their leaving care age only one young care leaver ended up in custody, as compared to 102 in the year before implementation.
Deloitte Access Economics have estimated that continuing care in Australia to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds would also halve homelessness, reduce hospitalisation by one-third, reduce mental illness by over 40 per cent, increase engagement in education, significantly decrease arrests and massively decrease alcohol and drug dependence in this cohort.
This simple legislative change will not only change lives, it will save $1.84 for every dollar spent.
Unsurprisingly, it is an idea that 88 per cent of Australians support. It is an idea that the Victorian government supports—but to this point, only in part. The state’s investment in Home Stretch is commendable but will support only 250 young people over the next five years—when more than 4000 young Victorians will leave care in that period.
As 12 young people eloquently wrote in an open letter to the Premier late last year:
The future can look pretty bleak when you leave care. We turn eighteen knowing that fifty percent of us will be homeless, in jail or unemployed within the first twelve months of leaving care. These are not things that just disappear. The consequences of these outcomes last a lifetime.
As it stands, of those of us who are signing this letter today, only 10% would be offered the opportunity to stay in care to 21 years … Which of us will you choose? Which of us misses out? How will you justify your decision to those left behind? It just doesn’t seem fair.
This bill will make it fair.
Legislating this change will guarantee it.
Turning to the specifics of the bill, its purpose is to amend the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to provide for the continuation of out-of-home care to young people up to, and including, 20 years of age. The bill would come into operation on the day after it receives royal assent.
The bill includes an extended definition of ‘out-of-home care’, to include young people aged 18, 19 and 20 years. It extends the responsibilities of the secretary to provide out-of-home care to young people continuing in out-of-home care. The bill inserts new division 4 into part 4.3 of the act.
New section 180A sets out the object of the division. New section 180B provides that continuing care will be available to young people for who the secretary has had parental responsibility and who elect to remain in out-of-home care. New section 180C provides for continuing care agreements, which will allow the secretary to acquit their obligation to provide continuing care to a young person, without treating that young person as a child under the act.
I would like to acknowledge the strong advocacy by Home Stretch for this reform, in particular Paul McDonald and before him Deb Tsorbaris for their leadership. Most importantly, I would like to congratulate the young care leavers who have been strong enough to share their personal stories.
I ask for your support for this reform that will give some of our most vulnerable young Victorians a better chance.
I commend the bill to the house.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second Reading Speech 5/2/20