Sally Webster discovers a little longer in foster care could reduce homeless risk

If the youngest of New Zealand’s homeless were sitting in shop doorways in their school uniforms proffering an empty lunch box as a means of garnering empathy we’d all sit up and take notice.

But those ejected from New Zealand’s Child Youth and Family system at 17 years old are not seen wearing any emblems of education when they find themselves wandering the streets. As Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills said in his first State of Care report on Child, Youth and Family (CYF), over 80 per cent of these children do not pass NCEA Level Two so they’re not even being educated at that age. Or given a home.

The plight of these children was pushed into view by ex-CYF kid Tupua Urlich, now 19 years, when he shared with national papers the abysmal way he marked his seventeenth year. A failed suicide attempt saw him wake alone in the clinical environs of a hospital ward, but at least there were staff to care for him, he said.

Holding this experience high, Action Station and Lifewise have joined together with Youthline, Child Poverty Action Group and the Methodist Mission to petition the New Zealand government to raise the age of state care from 17 to 21 years. This Thursday, Lifewise General Manager Moira Lawler will place the already 13,000 + strong document in Social Development Minister Anne Tolley’s hands which, together with Dr Wills’ slating report, could go in CYF teens’ favour.

One of the most glaring mistakes in the current system is described in the most recent Action Station appeal. ‘Under the current law, kids like Tupua lose child services protection on their 17th birthday, but aren’t able to access adult support, or sign tenancy agreements until they turn 18. The good news is that right now, we have a very promising chance to fix this fundamentally flawed system.’

To strengthen the case even further, you can click here and sign for this positive social change now.

From 2007 to 2014, 17 year old children exiting foster care ranged from 275 to 389 each year. Case Basket is waiting for the related 2015 information put to the Ministry of Social Development as an Official Information Request yesterday: the number of children in the CYF system who turned 17 years old this December and over the course of the year; how much it costs to foster one child per annum, to ascertain what funding extra years of care would cost. From that can be drawn predictably stark comparisons between what it costs government to care (less) for them as homeless citizens or otherwise.

Action Station’s central message is that raising the age limit would allow more CYF’s youth to focus on education and vocation ‘before the harsh reality of life kicked in’. Urlich supports it saying, “People that age should be focusing on their education, not going into Work and Income to sort out accommodation.”

 Although Minister Tolley has given no promises to budget for keeping teenagers the system has already failed off the streets, Lawler says she and the rest of the Lifewise team have high hopes that important action can be taken early.

“Some work can be done quickly to identify how agencies could provide support to these young people.”

On a brighter note, Lawler explains that some young people have support from foster parents that goes beyond their 17th birthday.

“For lucky ones that support can be there all their lives. However as this is voluntary for others once they turn 17 they are given their belongings and shown the door.  Many choose to return to their birth families as their first choice.  This does not always work out well for a range of reasons.  It’s at this point that the young person is at their most vulnerable and they have no place to turn.  This is the support we want available for young people – support when and where they need it at least until they are 18 and preferably up to 21.”

Image with special thanks to who have an inspiring homeless at Christmas story themselves.