Providing opportunities and support to young people leaving foster care

Providing opportunities and support to young people leaving foster care

A new pilot program supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged young people as they leave foster care in NSW has been launched at the Wesley Centre in Sydney.

Wesley Take Charge of Your Life, a joint project between Wesley Mission and The Rotary Club of Sydney, will target up to 100 young people across Sydney by providing a range of support and counselling services as they move from foster care to independent living.

When young people exit foster care they also leave their foster parents and make an attempt to live independently as young adults. They experience little or no support during the transition.

Few have extended family or community networks to fall back upon. The ensuing years are marked by low levels of educational attainment and high rates of unemployment, mobility, homelessness, financial difficulty, loneliness and physical and mental health problems. Around 50 per cent of children in foster care do not finish high school.

The transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency can be a challenge for any young person,” said Wesley Mission CEO the Rev Dr Keith Garner. “For young people leaving foster care the challenges are amplified.

“Wesley Take Charge of Your Life will keep young people engaged with education and employment while reducing the risk of homelessness and crime. Permanent, supportive relationships and connections are critical to a young adults’ well-being. Through Wesley Mission’s suite of integrated services, each young person will be offered a package of support options, individually tailored to their unique situation, location and level of need.”

Young people will be offered a package of support options, individually tailored to their unique situation, location and level of need. The package will include mentoring, education and training, life skill development, accessing accommodation, support, and employment opportunities.

The NSW Minister for Family and Community Services Brad Hazzard who helped launch the program said the Baird Government had a focus on children and young people.

“I want young people in care or leaving care to have the same opportunities and benefits as my own children,” Mr Hazzard said.

“The Wesley Take Charge of Your Life program provides an opportunity for young people to receive some practical help and guidance navigating life beyond care.

“The program is a great example of community partnerships and a model of what can be done when there is shared compassion, clarity of purpose and a harnessing of resources.”

President of The Rotary Club of Sydney, Andrew Laurie, said assisting young people was a significant area of service for his club and its members. Wesley Mission’s track record of providing support to thousands of Australians in need made it a natural partner for Rotary, he said.

“Each year thousands of young Australians are leaving care and experiencing negative results,” Mr Laurie said. “The opportunity to provide these young people with support through as they transition to independent living is a great privilege for us.

“The program will not only help them avoid those negative outcomes but also enable them to realise their potential. The program is a natural fit with my goals and those of The Rotary Club of Sydney. It will make a genuine and life-changing difference to those who need and deserve it. “

The shape of the 12-month pilot program was informed by feedback from focus groups run by Catalyst Research in August this year.

It was clear from the focus groups that stable and available housing in an area close to a young person’s original residence was a priority. This gave them the opportunity to maintain relationships and friendships.

They also believed that learning life skills like cooking, shopping, good hygiene and the development of social skills were also vastly important. Mentoring was a key element in helping to develop social and life skills.

Young people also identified a lack of continuity with case management as an area of concern. It was important case workers were informed about how and where young people could access health and mental health services.  A large proportion of young people also identified accessible drug and alcohol counselling as important element in the transition.

The focus groups also highlighted that young people had a deep desire for community.  Youth centres, role models, and a place to meet like-minded people who accepted and did not judge them were also essential.

Access to counselling and support for existing relationships, including culturally appropriate counselling for indigenous young people taken into foster care was also central. Young people also acknowledged that assistance with establishing a long-term savings and budgeting program needed to start at an early age – around the age of 15.

The program will be evaluated for its effectiveness. The assessment will provide a road map for a national roll out of the program.

Wesley Mission provides foster care services to more than 670 children in NSW across western Sydney, the Central Coast, the Hunter and the North Coast. It is the second largest non-government provider in the state.

Photo caption: At the launch of Wesley Take Charge of Your Life: (from left) Executive Manager of Wesley Dalmar, Nigel Lindsay, President of The Rotary Club of Sydney, Andrew Laurie, Wesley Mission CEO Rev Dr Keith Garner, former foster care client and now team leader of Wesley Mission’s Out of Home Care, Tuggerah, Jessica Wilson, and NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Brad Hazzard.

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