The child protection system does not routinely prepare care leavers well for independent living. “The circumstances and life chances for these young people are significantly poorer and the challenges and hardships considerably greater than for other young people their age in the general population.” All young people leaving the child protection system are meant to have support from caseworkers and a leaving care plan, as well as support to complete or continue their education. Many care leavers report they do not. There are a number of good new online resources available to help guide care leavers, such as this one from CREATE, and this app from FACS. But this is not nearly enough for many young people leaving the foster care system.

“Young people who remain in care until they reach 18 rarely have the emotional, social and financial support that is available to most young people their age from their families”

Care leavers are one of the “most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of young Australians.” Young people leaving care, as a group, fare more poorly than other young people their age in the general population. They are less likely to have completed school, and to have somewhere safe, stable and secure to live, and they are more likely to rely on government income support, to be in marginal employment, and to have difficulties in ‘making ends meet’. They are at a disproportionate risk of homelessness, mental illness, early parenthood and interaction with the justice system. “Trauma adds to the risk of offending behaviour, contributing to the link between child maltreatment, homelessness and offending.” The mistreatment that led these young people to be taken into care and the resultant trauma, added to the lack of support received as they exit care can become a vicious cycle that is very difficult for them to escape from as young adults.

This has, of course, a lot to do with the relationships these young people have experienced whilst in care, and the ones that continue with them into adulthood. “Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people” (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). Research has shown that young people leaving care who said there was “no one that they felt secure with or loved by” had the least positive life outcomes 5 years after leaving care. This makes a sad kind of sense. If you think no one cares about you, how do you value yourself? Who do you turn to for support or advice? And how do you make sense of where you fit in the world? “For young people in care the worst aspect of the experience may be the sense that at the end of the day nobody really cares about you.”

“Close personal relationships and social and emotional support throughout children’s early years and adolescence are essential contributors to their healthy development” (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Resnick et al., 1997). The impact of a genuinely caring & supportive foster carer, caseworker or teacher on a young person’s life outcomes cannot be overstated. This is why we are always looking for people willing to open, not just their homes, but also their hearts to vulnerable children and young people: someone to care about them, not just for them.

“Young people who were at least 18, felt that they were ready to leave care, had already completed their secondary schooling, had support from those around them and were able to maintain some continuity in their relationships and living arrangements were doing much better than those who were discharged from care earlier with little preparation or support and without having completed their secondary schooling.”

As one young care leaver in this study stated: “My foster mum’s been great – a great influence and support. During counselling I started to learn that I’ve always lived, without realising it, expecting everyone to go… Because that’s happened all my life… Now I understand that people do stay forever.”