Young people transitioning from out-of-home care (OOHC), often called care leavers or care experienced young people, are recognized globally as a vulnerable group. This is due to a range of circumstances including exposure to childhood disadvantage and sometimes trauma prior to entering care, varied OOHC experiences in terms of levels of placement and carer stability; and limited assistance from family and community connections as they transition from care into adulthood. Nevertheless, they are not a homogeneous group, and vary greatly in terms of their developmental needs and capacity at the time of transition.
Until recently, most states and territories including Victoria provided only discretionary, rather than mandatory, support beyond 18 years of age. This meant that non-government services played a key role in providing a safety net for care leavers once their formal child protection order ended. The Salvation Army Westcare program was instrumental in addressing what may be called both the material and relationship needs of care leavers in the Western Region. For example, the program seems to have effectively assisted young people to develop independent living skills; engage in education, employment and training; acquire financial support; and access affordable and stable housing. Additionally, the program was able to utilize consistent and trusting relationships and networking to address potential barriers to successful transition such as leaving care anxiety and limited communication between different support services and systems.
The program also prioritized and highlighted the value of youth participation. Members of the TYGA Westcare Youth Group Advisory Committee were able to participate effectively in a number of activities including appointing program staff, attending policy conferences, and informing the Children’s Commissioner of key concerns. Additionally, the TYGA group identified the potential for a formal peer mentoring network that would advise and assist youth leaving OOHC in the future. Overall, this report suggests a number of clear principles and processes that should inform practice and policy development to enhance future outcomes for care leavers in Victoria.