We don’t stop caring

Published: Fri 4 Sep 2015 10:59 AM
We don’t stop caring: Petition calls on government to raise the age of those leaving foster care
A group of agencies representing young people in state care have joined forces with Action Station to petition the government to raise the age of those leaving foster care. We Don’t Stop Caring, an initiative developed by Lifewise, Dingwall Trust, Youthline, Child Poverty Action Group, Wesley Community Action, Christchurch Methodist Mission and Action Station, aims to raise the age of young people leaving state care from 17 to 21, giving every young person in NZ the right to support and a home-base.
In New Zealand, young people currently leave state care on their 17th birthday, an age when they can’t even sign a tenancy agreement. “With Child Youth and Family currently under review, now is the time to show the public support for raising the age,” says Lifewise General Manager, Moira Lawler.
“Young people are in state care through no fault of their own. Somehow we have got to a point where people are quick to judge young people in foster care, but they are the innocent victims of sometimes horrific abuse and neglect. Our government is responsible for young people in state care and we, as members of the community, also have a role to play in making sure that they have the support they need to thrive” says Moira.
Most families in New Zealand support their children well past 17, and young people who leave the nest can come back for support if times get tough. But this isn’t the case for young people raised in the state care system. “These young people don’t have the option to come home if something goes wrong– they’re left isolated, without the skills or support needed to successfully navigate the adult world”, says Dingwall Chief Executive Tracie Shipton.
Tupua Urlich, now nineteen, left state care at fifteen. “Leaving state care was a heartbreaking experience,” he says. “You have expectations, which grow throughout your childhood, of returning to a loving environment with all your family. Sadly that was not the case for me.”
Transitioning to life as an independent adult is harder when a young person has already had a disrupted life, in and out of the state care system. “Raising the age of leaving foster care from 17 to 21 would mean that young people can learn the skills they need for being independent, and those who choose to leave have the option of coming home if they need to,” says Tracie.
If the age of leaving state care remains at 17, young people will continue to fall through the gaps. State care leavers are known to suffer disproportionately poor outcomes, including homelessness, over-representation in the justice system and long-term dependence on welfare.
With better support, more young people will be able to make the transition to adulthood successfully, resulting in long-term economic, social and health benefits for us all.
“Leaving state care at 17 means teenagers like myself can end up on the streets for years,” says Tupua. “I’m asking for the age of foster care to be lifted because, like other young people in state care, I want to be a productive member of society and to live a happy life. We don’t want to just be survivors of our own childhood and upbringing.”

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