Program tells of benefit for policy change to out-of-home care in NSW

By Jackson Graham

February 23, 2022

Helen Dalton
Uniting will meet with NSW MPs from across the political spectrum — including Helen Dalton MP — at parliament house on Wednesday. (AAP Image/Peter Rae)

Eighteenth birthdays bring a sense of freedom for many teenagers, but for young people in out-of-home care in some jurisdictions, it’s an age weighted with anxiety as government support tapers off. 

When Sydney resident Tarrah Nelson-Watt approached turning 18, she feared losing the security of a foster home and being left to face adulthood alone.

“They just kick you out and let you be you,” Nelson-Watt told The Mandarin. “I was very afraid of that.”  

But the now 19-year-old is part of a pilot program that Uniting NSW-ACT has spent $7 million on to assist young people in taking the steps between teenage years and adulthood. 

The support includes funding for accommodation and a coach to help with administrative and everyday tasks and goal setting. 

Uniting will meet with NSW MPs from across the political spectrum at parliament house on Wednesday — including Helen Dalton, Kate Washington, Alex Greenwich, David Shoebridge, Peter Poulos and Melinda Pavey — to advocate for a policy change for out-of-home care to support young people until they turn 21 years old. 

Victoria has led the way in Australia by extending the age for out-of-home care support to age 21 at the beginning of 2021, while WA, South Australia and Tasmania have also made changes. 

Uniting NSW-ACT chief executive Tracey Burton said results from the pilot program, which the community service organisation initiated without government funding, showed the need for support to extend to young people older than 18. 

“I can’t think of another single policy change that would be as easy to implement, albeit it takes funding, to get as much social impact as this one because the system of out-of-home care is already there,” Burton said. 

A Deloitte study from 2016 showed that for out-of-home care to have a net benefit beyond 18 years, governments could break even if the cost of care was less than $51,000 for three years. About 1200 people exit out-of-home care a year in NSW. 

Burton said the cost of not acting put pressure on the health system, the care system, the welfare system, and the criminal justice system. 

Australian Institute of Family Studies data also shows that more than half of people aged between 20 and 24 are continuing to live at home with their parents.

“If you can help these young people at this important transition, you’re changing the trajectory,” Burton said. 

“It can take a couple of years. They might try uni and it’s not for them, they might try nursing and it’s not for them. That’s OK, that’s just how everyone else in the community finds their way into adulthood.” 

Uniting works collaboratively with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, and has shared initial findings from the pilot program with public servants. 

“There’s an awareness of it. We hope their role would be to bring the sector together and to map the policy change and then appeal to Treasury with the business case,” Burton said. 

“Anybody who’s assisting the state with the provision of out of home care services at the moment would have their remit expanded. It would be a change of policy and change of funding,” 

Tarrah Nelson-Watt, who is now training to be a makeup artist and is the first in her family to finish year 12, wants others to have access to the opportunities she’s benefiting from in the program. 

“They can give every single young person the opportunity to be treated equally and figure out how to be an adult without that stress of just coming out of school, turning 18, and then being brushed off and left to be an adult by yourself,” she said.


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