Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Out of Home Care Age Bill

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:52): Justice is a powerful word. It means many things. It is in our party’s name. Justice is not just about locking up criminals and throwing away the key. Justice is not just about harsher penalties or sentencing practices. It is about the pursuit of fairness. Justice is about protecting the vulnerable, the children, the elderly and all those in between. This bill aims to change the current termination of care by government for our youth from 18 to 21. For too long those who have relied on out-of-home care have been let down by a system that has been politicised, underfunded and neglected for brighter and shinier budget items. However, there are serious unintended consequences which stem from a lack of support for our youth at a time when school, peer pressure and personal development is at its peak in terms of stress. Presently some adolescents are worrying about where they will be sleeping after their 18th birthday or how they will navigate the unnecessarily bureaucratic forms required for receiving welfare and further government support. My son, Michael, is in year 11 this year and I cannot imagine him at the end of this year navigating the system. Fortunately he is not reliant upon out-of-home care; he is seemingly more reliant upon the PlayStation at this stage. A statistic that has been cited is that around 800 young people leave state care each year as they approach their 18th birthdays, and of these 800, 50 per cent will be homeless, in custody or unemployed within 12 months. This is simply not good enough. I am sure that we can all agree that helping these young people, who through no fault of their own are at risk, should be a top priority for this government and this term of Parliament. While the government has indicated that it is hoping to increase funding and support for those in outof-home care, there are kids in year 12 right now who are turning 18 next week and will be let down by a system with a harsh cut-off date. By allowing people to leave state care at the age of 21 instead of 18 you are giving adolescents the opportunity to forward plan and prepare for independent living. Compared to 18, by 21 you are far more socially mature and able to manage personal finances. And most importantly, you are not having to navigate your way through year 12 at the same time as turning 18 and finding your own place to live. Our party leader, Derryn Hinch, raised this exact issue with the CEO of Home Stretch, Paul McDonald, on his TV program last August. While Derryn tried to get support for this concept in the federal Parliament, this is fundamentally a state issue and should be addressed by this government. I expect some to understandably raise the budgetary cost of offering the option of continued care until the age of 21, but there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that if we do so, those in state care are less likely to have become engaged with government handouts or, worse, entangled within the criminal justice system. This is where state care becomes a justice issue, because we can help these children before they encounter these issues. It is being proactive in the most productive way. Finally, I note the need for our attention to be directed not only towards state care but also towards the work of the Department of Health and Human Services and child protection services. There is an overwhelming need for an holistic approach by government towards child welfare. While this bill is a step in the right direction, one measure alone will not resolve all of the existing issues. I commend Ms Patten on this introduction of this bill. If nothing else it has inspired a very important debate in this place. I hope the government offers the option of continued care until the age of 21 as early as the forthcoming state budget. As many have said before in this place, the protection of children should be a top priority of any government. I commend this bill to the house.


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