Adopt Change and St.George Foundation take aim at Reducing Homelessness for Children Leaving Statutory Care

  • A staggering 35% of young people leaving statutory care at 18 years old could be homeless in their first year of independence.
  • 29% will leave unemployed, 28% will leave a parent themselves and a further 65% will leave without finishing high school.
  • Adopt Change, with the help of St.George Foundation, has today launched a landmark program called ‘Empower Change’ to address these statistics.

Australia, 25 March 2020: Today, Adopt Change launch the first of their online peer support programs for 15 to 18 year-olds who are fast approaching the end of their time in statutory care. The “Empower Change” program will provide care leavers with the support and tools they need to prepare children for life after statutory care.  

Within a peer support environment, co-facilitated by professionals and care leaver mentors, the program will feature topics ranging from managing finances, mental and physical health, to practical skills such as cooking nutritious food on a budget.  

These new forums will be held in ‘Online Loungerooms’ and are part of the new Empower Change program to help young people prepare for life outside of the system. The Loungerooms will be hosted by professionals and those with lived experience providing tailored content and trauma informed support.  

The program addresses staggering statistics. Each year approximately 3,100 young people throughout Australia leave or ‘age out’ of the system, with an expectation they will transition to adulthood in isolation. While some young people remain with the foster or kinship family they were raised by, this is sadly not the case for many. As a result, they become some of the most vulnerable people living within our community. According to the statistics:  

  • 35% of the young people leaving care were homeless in the first year,  
  • 29% were unemployed,  
  • 28% left the system as parents themselves,
  • 46% of men and 22% of women leave having been involved in the juvenile justice system; and,  
  • 65% leave without having completed high schoo[1]

Poor outcomes in the first year and beyond are significantly higher for young people with disabilities, those who come from an Aboriginal background, and young parents.  

The program will initially commence with a focus on regional NSW and young people with additional challenges, such as having multiple out of home care placements or having spent time in the juvenile justice system, adjoining state care. There is a clear need to support Care Leavers nationally, and this is the commencement of a program that caters to a critical gap in the support system for young people at a challenging time of life.  

Empower Change mentor Emily Hikiati discusses her experiences growing up in the out-of-home care system, falling pregnant at the age 15 and being homeless six times after leaving care. “The uncertainty is endless, sometimes it feels impossible to move forward. We are locked in a future and a fate without a say and without knowing what is intended for us. Leaving care is like stepping into an abyss.”  

Emily is passionate about reducing youth homelessness and the challenges young people face when they leave the care system, “No one should have to live through the experience of turning 18 and being completely abandoned. Turning 18 doesn’t mean you have the skills or means to write a resume, lease an apartment, or know how to cook a hot meal for yourself. When you leave the system, that’s it! There’s no one to look out for you, it’s really tough and you just need to work it out on your own. This shouldn’t be a realty for children leaving the system but sadly it is. This needs to change, it can change, it must change.”  

Adopt Change CEO, Renee Carter spoke about the program and the current situation for care leavers. “The statistics tell a truly heart-breaking story. We expect these young people who have often experienced abuse or neglect in early childhood, to be able to land safely on their feet just because they’ve turned 18. It’s imperative that we provide a community of support for care leavers, so they know where to turn and become part of a wider family network, where they can ask questions, raise concerns and hear practical advice. It is not enough to just survive this experience. We want young people to thrive and know they have support.”  

“We are excited by the funding from St.George Foundation for this program, which  has given us the opportunity to open up a future for those exiting the statutory care system. This new program is truly unique and offers the opportunity for care leavers to feel empowered and change their trajectory.”  

The Empower Change program has been set up to help these young people to develop essential life skills and assist in the transition to adulthood. The program is structured to provide critical skills to enable these young people to have a better chance at successful future, including;  

  • Self-confidence and care  
  • Applying for jobs and interview preparation  
  • Seeking housing  
  • Health and safety (relationships, cyber, physical, mental)
  • Practical guidance on bank accounts, legal matters, transport and budgeting  
  • Connection and relationships  

This program is designed to help provide care leavers with support and connections to set them up for a future beyond care.  

Ross Miller, Governor of St.George Foundation said, “’As a father to two adopted children, I have taken the journey of fostering within statutory care. I’ve always been acutely aware of the certainty that is required to help young people transition out of their foster homes as they get older, ensuring they remain supported for the long term.  

The funding from St.George Foundation to launch the Empower Change program directly addresses such a transition during what can be a vulnerable period for such youth. The program will provide critical support and tools to prepare for an important time of change and help to navigate the way into adulthood.”    

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[1] Source: Statistics on homelessness, employment, pregnancy, schooling, and juvenile justice provided by Create Foundation Survey, “Transitioning from Care in Australia, An Evaluation of CREATE’s What’s the Plan? Campaign”