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We don't stop caring campaign

We don't stop caring campaign urges government to raise foster care leaving age to 21

A nationwide alliance of agencies have today renewed their calls for the government to raise the age of leaving age for state care from 17 to 21 and are asking the public to show their support for the change.

In New Zealand, young people leave state care on their 17th birthday – an age when they can’t even sign a tenancy agreement. “We see the impact of that every day – young people who end up homeless, living on the streets because they have nowhere to go”, says Lifewise General Manager Moira Lawler.

“We’re pleased to hear that the Minister can see the need for the age to be raised, and we hope that she will consider international research such as the state of Illinois’s overwhelmingly positive results for young people leaving care at 21.”

Research from Monash University in Australia also shows that for each 17 year old who leaves state care, it can cost the state more than $700,000 due to poor outcomes including homelessness, justice and correction costs, and long-term welfare dependence.

Most families in NZ support their children well past 17, with most Kiwis now leaving home at 23. Even then, those who leave the nest can come back for support if times get tough. But that isn’t the case for young people raised in the state care system. “These young people don’t have the option to come home if something goes wrong– they’re left isolated, without the skills or support needed to successfully navigate the adult world”, says Dingwall Chief Executive Tracie Shipton.

Lifewise, Youthline, Child Poverty Action Group, Action Station and agencies from all around the country have teamed up for a campaign named We Don’t Stop Caring, asking the public to sign a petition to raise the age of leaving state care from 17 to 21.

Nearly 6000 people have already signed the petition, and the group are hoping to get at least 10,000 signatures before presenting the results to the Select Committee. “We ask that everyone signs the petition today to make sure that our government knows that Kiwis don’t stop caring when our young people turn 17.” says Moira.

“Young people are in state care through no fault of their own. Somehow we have got to a point where people are quick to judge young people in foster care, but they are the innocent victims of sometimes horrific abuse and neglect. Our government is responsible for young people in state care, and we as members of the community also have a role to play in making sure that they have the support they need to thrive” says Moira.

Tupua Urlich, now 19, left state care at 15. “For me personally, leaving state care was a horrible and heartbreaking experience. You have so much expectation that grows throughout your childhood of returning to a loving environment with all your family. Sadly that was not the case for me.”

Transitioning to life as an independent adult only gets harder when a young person has already had a disrupted life in-and-out of the state care system. “Raising the age of leaving foster care from 17 to 21 would mean that young people can learn the skills they need for being independent, and those who choose to leave have the option of coming home if they need to”, says Tracie.

If the age of leaving state care remains at 17, young people will continue to fall through the gaps. State care leavers are known to suffer disproportionately poor outcomes, including homelessness, over-representation in the justice system, becoming young parents, and being dependent on welfare long-term.

Not only is it vital that the Government provides the same level of care as a reasonable parent, raising the age of foster care from 17 to 21 is in everyone’s best interest. With better support, more young people will be able to make the transition to adulthood successfully, resulting in long-term economic, social and health benefits for us all.

“Leaving state care at 17 means teenagers like myself can end up on to the streets for years.”, says Tupua. “I’m asking for the age of foster care to be lifted because like every other young person in state care, I want to be a productive member of society and to live a happy life. We don’t want to just be survivors of our own childhood and upbringing”.

The Action Station petition asks the Child Youth and Family panel to raise the age of leaving foster care in NZ from 17 to 21, and was created in collaboration with Lifewise, Dingwall Trust, Youthline, Child Poverty Action Group, Wesley Community Action, Christchurch Methodist Mission and Action Station.

ENDS

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