As of November 2016, there were 9175 children and young people in Out of Home Care (OOHC) in Victoria. On average they had been placed with eight different carers throughout their time in care.
Studies find correlations between continued instability in Out of Home Care (OOHC – kinship, foster and residential care) placements and adverse psychosocial outcomes. These outcomes can mean children and young people in the OOHC system can have emotional difficulties, develop behavioural problems and experience poor academic performance.
Roadmap for reform
The Victorian Government has recognised these issues and has been overseeing the implementation of The Roadmap for Reform: Strong families, safe children. In 2016 DHHS and the OOHC Working Group courageously embarked on a journey, supported by ThinkPlace, to co-discover and co-design the future of the Out of Home Care System. In this collaborative effort we engaged with 31 organisations across Victoria dedicated to supporting children and young people navigating complex situations.
Transitions can be scary
As part of this project ThinkPlace designers had the honour of working with devoted service workers who have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of Victoria’s most disadvantaged children and young people.
Carers, young people and workers shared their stories and provided key insights into the current state experiences of living in OOHC. They reflected on existing strengths, including the devotion of workers to providing care for children and young people and protecting them from risky environments. They also identified causes for concern, including the fact that the transition out of care can be a negative and scary experience.
“We have workers literally driving young people from resi to homelessness shelters,” one participant recounted.
“As a parent you will look after your kids until you die," described another. "He was left to his own devices at 18 but needed a big brother to help him. He died recently at 35 – alone and forgotten about until we went to bury him”
Making care children and youth-centric
As our collaborators set out in their vision for the future of OOHC, “care [needs to be] extended and young people supported to prepare for their entry to adulthood”. Their vision was for a design-led transformation that would deliver children and youth-centric care, and that eligibility for care provision should be extended to young people up to the age of 21 years.
Until changes were recently announced the cut-off age for a young person to receive OOHC support in Victoria was 18.
The recently-announced changes, known as Home Stretch, have won bipartisan support and are set for a smooth passage through Victoria’s legislature.
“For young people who may have spent their whole lives in care, leaving doesn’t come easy," said Victoria's Minister for Families, Children and Youth Services Jenny Mikkakos.
“We know we can do more to support them so that they’re empowered and ready to take that step – and implementing Home Stretch will do just that."
Champions for change
The new change represents a hugely-positive shift and ThinkPlace is honoured to have been a part of developing a vision to achieve better outcomes for vulnerable young people.
The change is a direct result of the tireless efforts of all people working in Community Service Organisations who have promoted the lifting of the OOHC age to 21. In particular, Paul MacDonald of Anglicare (and co-chair of the OOHC WG) who has provided leadership through his determined efforts to implement a fundamental reform of the OOHC system. Paul’s championing of the Home Stretch campaign, along with multiple Victorian Community Service Organisations, was instrumental in ensuring that all young people have equal opportunity to grow and be supported during their entry into adulthood.
ThinkPlace’s work on reforming the Out of Home Care System has been a hugely-rewarding collaboration with passionate advocates who are committed to driving a better future for young people in care. This work was also recognised by judges of the Good Design Awards, receiving an award for Service Design earlier in 2018.