Academic journal article Rural Society

Examining the Experiences of Young People Transitioning from Out-of-Home Care in Rural Victoria

Academic journal article Rural Society

Examining the Experiences of Young People Transitioning from Out-of-Home Care in Rural Victoria

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Young people leaving state out-of-home care are arguably one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society. Compared to most young people, they face particular difficulties in accessing age-appropriate developmental and transitional opportunities. Care leavers have been found to experience significant health, social and educational deficits (Cashmore & Paxman, 2006; Maunders, Liddell, Liddell, & Green, 1999; Mendes, Johnson, & Moslehuddin, 2011).

In recent years, most Australian States and Territories have introduced specialist leaving care and after care programs and supports. The particular focus of this research is on the State of Victoria which legislated via the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 for the provision of leaving care and aftercare services for young people up to 21 years of age. The 2008-2009 state budget allocated $3.17 million, growing to $3.65 million recurrently, to support care leavers aged 18-21 years who previously lived in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect by their parents. This includes funding for both service delivery and brokerage support for individual care leavers to cover accommodation, education, training and employment, and access to health and community services (Department of Human Services, 2010; Trombin, 2008).

In addition, a number of Victorian nongovernment services have independently established their own leaving care programs, often without government funding. This article specifically examines the experiences of young people transitioning from care within the program operated by St. Luke's Anglicare in the rural city of Bendigo. The key argument of this article is that St. Luke's has introduced a unique community development model of support for care leavers based on a partnership between professional social welfare workers and local community networks. Community development is defined here as the employment of communitybased structures to address social needs and collectively empower groups of people to determine their own destiny (Kenny, 2007).

A number of key leaving care researchers (Broad, 2005; Hojer & Sjoblom, 2010) have noted that care leavers tend to be socially excluded from participation in mainstream social, economic, political, and cultural systems. In particular, they lack access to informal social networks such as extended family, family friends, school-based supports, youth friendship groups, and local sporting, cultural and religious groups. A social inclusion model for care leavers aims to promote participation in mainstream activities by linking care leavers with a range of professional and community supports. These supports would address key developmental needs in areas such as: housing; education, employment and training; social and family relationships; self care; health; and financial support and independent living skills (Broad, 2005; Pinkerton, 2006).

Previous publications have examined the outcomes for this group of young people in a range of areas including housing, health, education and employment, and social networks (Mendes, 2010a, 2010b, 2012). This article directs particular attention to some of the practical challenges faced by the young people, including re-establishing relationships with family, acquiring a driving licence and/or managing public transport, dealing with legal issues, and generally coping with the particular dynamics of Australian rural communities. A number of these issues have received only limited coverage in other studies of leaving care experiences (Stein & Munro, 2008).

Specific challenges for rural and regional care leavers

To date, there has been only limited examination of the specific needs of rural and regional care leavers. Limited studies from Australia and England suggest that rural and regional care leavers may experience specific locational disadvantages compared to their urban peers (Allen, 2003; Maunders et al., 1999). …

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