Transition service offers extra support to those leaving state care

7:57 pm on 31 January 2019

The Children's Commissioner and a former foster child want every young person leaving state care to be offered full support through a new transitional service.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The new service will allow foster children to remain living with a caregiver or return to living with one until the age of 21.

It is being rolled out for those in the care of Oranga Tamariki who turn 18 after 1 July - but those who leave before then won't be able to access the full scheme.

That's despite research showing that those leaving care are almost 50 times more likely to seriously offend than other New Zealanders.

Carmel West left state care in 2013 with no immediate family, no real-world experience and very little money.

She said her former caregiver - the Dingwall Trust - helped where it could, but for the most part she was on her own.

"For me, it was really hard to all of a sudden [go from] having my caregivers paying for everything, like power and water, and all of a sudden I had to start paying for that," she said.

Money was often tight, she said, and she would sometimes go hungry because she couldn't afford food.

Oranga Tamariki figures show 600 young people aged between 15 and 17 leave care every year.

They are three times more likely to end up in hospital before they turn 20 than those who haven't been in care. They are also 10 times more likely to be involved in minor offending.

The service will be launched in July - coinciding with the age of care and support rising to 21.

But young people leaving care before 1 July won't have the right to remain or return to their caregiver, and won't be proactively contacted by the ministry.

Ms West said that was simply not fair.

"There will be a lot of children, 100 or more leaving. They're going to all suffer."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said transition services in the past have been seriously inadequate and this service would help to fill that.

However, he said every person who had been transitioned out of care should be offered it in full.

"Obviously those who transition as from 1 July will probably be first in the queue, but I see no reason why as soon as possible that sort of comprehensive support couldn't be available to everybody, already who has been transitioned out and I think that's something we should be expecting and looking for as soon as reasonably possible."

Young New Zealanders often return to their home base during periods of uncertainty and those in care should be afforded the same right, he said.

"That's why I'm so excited by the opportunities that this new transition service provides," Judge Becroft said.

"We will be giving children who leave state care the same support and opportunity that we want to be giving to our own children. That has to be the standard."

Oranga Tamariki spokesperson Sarah Ashton said the ministry did not proactively offer support to those leaving care.

Young people who have left state care can contact their former social worker for support, and can ask for advice until they turn 20, but it's up to them.

"The big difference with the changes is that we will proactively offer that," Ms Ashton said.

Ms Ashton said it was designed to provide ongoing and stable support.

"We'll be continuing to maintain contact with young people after they leave care, and provide them proactive support up until the age of 21," she said.

"Our young people will have the opportunity to remain living with a caregiver or return to living with one until the age of 21, to provide a more gradual transition from care into independent living."

People up to the age of 25 will also be eligible for extra assistance if they need it.

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