Foster kids fare worse than peers in education and mental health

L-R: Darcy (21) and researcher Dr Melissa O''Donnell from the Telethon Kids Institute at the Perth Childrens Hospital.  The Telethon Kids Institute has released a report on young people from state care and their outcomes after they turn 18. It supports Home Stretch, a campaign to increase the support for youths from the age of 18 to 21. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au   d495314
L-R: Darcy (21) and researcher Dr Melissa O''Donnell from the Telethon Kids Institute at the Perth Childrens Hospital. The Telethon Kids Institute has released a report on young people from state care and their outcomes after they turn 18. It supports Home Stretch, a campaign to increase the support for youths from the age of 18 to 21. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d495314

A TELETHON Kids Institute (TKI) report on young people from out-of-home care that contributed to the State Government’s decision in March to back a Home Stretch trial supporting young people in State care to the age of 21, has been released today.

The report led by researcher Melissa O’Donnell and commissioned by the Department of Communities, found that young people from out-of-home care fare worse than their peers for outcomes such as mental health and education.

Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk revealed on Saturday that the Home Stretch trial, led by Anglicare WA, will start on the week of September 9 supporting 15 care leavers in the Fremantle area.

The Government announced $440,000 in funding for the trial during Homelessness Week earlier this month.

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Researcher Dr Melissa O”Donnell from the Telethon Kids Institute at the Perth Childrens Hospital. The Telethon Kids Institute has released a report on young people from state care and their outcomes after they turn 18. It supports Home Stretch, a campaign to increase the support for youths from the age of 18 to 21. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d495314

Dr O’Donnell, who is on the steering committee for the WA Home Stretch trial, and her team spent eight months in 2017 using deidentified, linked data to follow the progress of 2003 young people born between 1990 and 1995 who had spent time in care, such as foster care, until they turned 23.

They were compared to a group of 9955 who had similar socioeconomic characteristics at birth but had not been in State care, to create the report titled ‘Exploring outcomes for young people who have experienced out-of-home care’.

While Dr O’Donnell’s findings were similar to other national studies, she said it was the first time a large group was studied so the results were more valid.

She said the most alarming result was that 80 per cent of the young people from State care had not completed a high school certificate and just 4 per cent went on to university.

Darcy (21). The Telethon Kids Institute has released a report on young people from state care and their outcomes after they turn 18. It supports Home Stretch, a campaign to increase the support for youths from the age of 18 to 21. Picture: David Baylis www.communitypix.com.au d495314

But former foster child Darcy bucks that trend.

The 21-year-old was just five years old when he was placed in foster care and lived with about six different carers until the age of 18.

He graduated from Year 12 and studied computer and technology at Curtin University for a year.

It’s then the support network proposed by Home Stretch would have helped him.

“After a year I got sick and my studies had to be put on the backburner,” he said.

“I couldn’t study, work part time and be sick at the same time.”

Darcy said if the Home Stretch model had been in place, he would have had mentors to help him and been aware of resources provided by organisations like Anglicare WA, the Salvation Army and State Government.

Darcy said he was lucky he had developed a support network of family and friends to help him but the majority of young people from State care didn’t have that.

Dr O’Connell will attend the national Home Stretch Symposium in Sydney over the next two days where there will be a focus on the cost to the economy if there isn’t extended support for young people from State care.

Minister Simone McGurk MLA and Anglicare WA CEO Mark Glasson. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d491879

Anglicare WA chief executive Mark Glasson said the current system was not setting up young people to successfully leave the care system.

“For many of them, their accommodation options are homelessness services, their health options are the emergency departments,” Mr Glasson said.

“The WA Home Stretch trial will provide an opportunity to create those foundations by offering guarantees around housing, health and ongoing support that every young person needs to transition into independence.”

Of the 2003 young people from State care monitored for the report:

  • 80 per cent had not completed a high school certificate
  • 4 per cent were university-bound
  • 27 per cent had a mental health contact
  • 20 per cent had a juvenile detention and/or adult imprisonment
  • 38 per cent had a juvenile and/or adult community-based sentence.