Navigating life alone from a young age 

What happens to a child in foster care when they turn 18? Well, that depends on which state or territory you live in in Australia.

Emily Hikaiti (pictured on the right) with Jordan Parkes and Tayla Scarcella at the Voices in Action event. Photo: Ruby Sait

Recent statistics suggest about 178,000 children and young people in Australia under the age of 18 experienced out-of-home care in 2021 and 2022. Out-of-home care is a temporary, medium or long-term living arrangement for children and young people who cannot live in their family and includes various arrangements including foster care, kinship care and residential care. In Australia, about 30% of young people leaving out-of-home care experience homelessness within three years of leaving care.  

Liana Buchanan, the Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People in Victoria, was shocked to hear that not all young people leaving care in Australia get the same support. 

In 2021 the Commission of Children and Young People conducted an inquiry into the outcomes for young people leaving care. It revealed that those with a care experience were lacking meaningful support from friends and family. 

“The evidence that we gathered in that inquiry is very clear. Young people are being left homeless. They are being left to navigate mental health systems. They are being left to navigate access to Centrelink and financial support,” Buchanan said. 

When children and young people with a care experience from all over Australia and New Zealand attended the Voices in Action conference organised by the CREATE Foundation, it became clear that not everyone received the same support.  

“We should have consistent rights and supports throughout the country,” Buchanan said. 

New South Wales, the Northam Territory, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia all offer support for young people leaving care until they are 25. But Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland only offer support until the age of 21.  

Emily Hikaiti was a young person in care in NSW but only found out six months before turning 25 that extra support had been available to them. They were angered by the discrepancies between jurisdictions and said there should be equity for all young people facing these circumstances.

“It needs to change. It is not a matter of should it, it’s a matter of when can it,” Hikaiti said.

Young people from New Zealand with a care experience also receive support until the age of 25. This has been implemented nationwide since July 2019, while also allowing children and young people to stay in care until the age of 21. 

Sarah Gibbs had experienced care in New Zealand and came to Australia for the first time to attend the Voices in Action conference. 

Gibbs is a part of VOYCE, an organisation in New Zealand that supports children and young people with a care experience. The organisation works towards amplifying the voices of those in out-of-home care. 

“I feel like there is a lot more support in New Zealand,” Gibbs said.  

Gibbs recently turned 22 and, with the support of her career, was able to get her drivers licence. 

“The support until the age of 25 has definitely lowered the risk of care experience young people becoming homeless. If you have any struggles with paying bond or you can’t pay your rent or your car breaks down, that support is going to be there for you as a young care experience person,” she said.


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