10 Dec 2015

State care petition taken to Parliament

7:51 pm on 10 December 2015

A 21-year-old woman who spent 15 years in state care says being kicked out at 17 was tough and she dropped out of school so she could work to pay her rent.

Nearly 14,000 people have signed the petition, launched by a group of child poverty advocates who want the Child, Youth and Family (CYF) cut-off age changed from 17 to 21.

Carmel West was in a foster home from the age of two, and said she wished the cut off age was higher.

Pictured (L - R) is Moira Lawler, General Manager Lifewise, Anne Tolley, Social Development Minister, David Hanna Executive Director of Wesley Community Action & Shae Ronald, Business Systems and Development Manager at Youthline.

Pictured (L - R) Moira Lawler, Lifewise, Anne Tolley, Social Development Minister, David Hanna, Wesley Community Action & Shae Ronald, Youthline. Photo: Supplied

"I had to leave school early to go work at a job and then my last year of schooling went down a bit, but you shouldn't have to worry about that kind of stuff when you're 17.

"You shouldn't have to be focusing on 'oh how am I going to pay my rent this week, or am I going to have enough food', just simple things like that," she said.

CYF helped her find her birth parents just before she turned 17, but once she left foster care she didn't have the support that she needed to build a relationship.

"If I was still in care they would have helped me, given me all the counselling and then supported my family too, but when you leave at that age it's harder".

Lifewise general manager Moira Lawler is heading the campaign for the age to be raised and took the petition to Parliament this morning.

Ms Lowler said at 17 years old you could not even sign a tenancy agreement and many foster children often end up homeless.

Today's meeting with Social Development Minister Anne Tolley felt like a step forward she said.

"We had a good conversation with the minister around ways we can support children and families more effectively."

Ms Tolley would not specify what age she thought it should be raised to, but she said it was being investigated by a panel planning the operational overhaul of CYF.

Their report is due on the 23 December.

An organisation contracted by CYF to match foster children and families wants the age for support cut off to be raised to 25.

Director of Wesley Community Action David Hanna said different people need help to different ages.

"For some young people it may be a year or two of extra help and support and they're on their way.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

"For others it's more complex and they could need it a bit longer, so certainly 21, but for some maybe up to 25 they need assistance because the issues they are dealing with from childhood they may need a little bit more support", said Mr Hanna.

Ms Tolley said she had been wanting to raise the cut off age of children in state care since last year, and once she had the report on the CYF review she could make the next step.

"It's certainly something that I have talked to on numerous occasions with the youth panel that I set up, a group of young people who have been in care themselves.

"As I said to the petitioners today, I am very confident that it will be a feature of the new system when the final proposals come to me."

She said until a change is made people such as Carmel can access support from youth services, which would not provide a bed - but would help with budgeting and advice.

The allowance available from the government for a 17 year old not living at home is $175 after tax.

Ms Tolley is hoping to have a cabinet paper with recommended changes in parliament by March, and the legislation changed in 2017.

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