Care Leaver Data Collection

Thank you, Madam Speaker. The other day, during the debate regarding collecting data on care leavers, I was surprised by Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith’s response. Referring specifically to what I had said about the importance of data, the minister said, ‘She makes it sound like it is really easy’. The minister also said, ‘We cannot force them to provide us with data’. ‘They would … need to … be willing to engage in that process’. To me, this was a sign of defeat. When something is too hard, we will not do it.

The minister’s own directorate produced a discussion paper in 2018 that repeatedly emphasises the importance of data collection on care leavers. Three years later, there is nothing. Now we know why there is nothing! Because it is too hard!

I am here today to give the minister a solution. Twenty-four hours after the debate, I have a solution for her. Not three years – one day. Imagine what I could achieve in three years if I were the minister! ;-)

So here it is. Please listen carefully, Minister, as well as your directorate’s senior managers. As I said at the debate, if the young people who exit this government’s care and protection system are not willing to engage once they turn 18, then we have a serious problem. Young people who have felt safe in government care, who have felt genuinely valued and respected, do not need to be forced.

I stand by this statement. In addition, I would like to add to it. The minister’s reaction to what I said in the debate two days ago raises serious other concerns about how unsupported care leavers in this territory might really be. The minister made it sound like young people themselves are the only source of information when she said, ‘We cannot force them to provide us with data’. This is only true, however, if care leavers have been abandoned, with no one to watch out for them. I believe that is what’s happening in Canberra.

In the UK, the Staying Close program provides youth who have exited residential care with ten hours of ongoing contact each week with trusted support workers back in the same homes they once lived in. They also regularly visit these homes for dinner and to celebrate birthdays and holidays with their former housemates. In such a situation, it is not even necessary to ask young people how they are going. If someone is homeless, support workers know. If someone is struggling with school or needs help securing employment, support workers know. Data collection on these care leavers is not hard, as the minister claimed, because they still have people they trust looking out for them.

I offered similar counsel at recent budget estimates hearings after questioning the high number of community-based justice orders not being completed by young people. The ACT Government has taken on itself to provide the casework for these youths, but the young people don’t trust the government. Solution: offer them case management by people they do trust. It is that simple.

This is a big part of what I meant two days ago when I called on the government to commit to an extension of care. This is not just about a housing subsidy, as useful as that may be. We must do better at replicating the benefits of belonging to a family for these kids. Foster and kinship carers will need to be involved, as will youth workers and caseworkers. Our efforts almost certainly will need to include community services providers as well. I’ve spoken with many of these providers. They currently have a much clearer understanding of how care leavers in the ACT are going than the ACT Government does.

So the solution to the minister’s problem with data collection is making sure that care leavers are plugged into a network of people with whom they share a genuine relationship of trust – people who can and will keep a respectful but watchful eye on them. Thank you.

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