Regardless of how well a young person is prepared to leave care they will face significant challenges in the transition to independence. The Leaving Care Program is available to assist young people, up to the age of 21 years, to support them through these challenges, once they have left the Child Protection or Out of Home Care system.
The needs of leaving care clients vary a great deal. In keeping with the research, young people who have had the benefit of a long-term nurturing placement tend to do a lot better and therefore require less support. Our clients are often dealing with a number of challenges including the lack of a home, mental illness, drug dependency and single parenthood. Supporting links with education and training is a core element of post-care support.
The Leaving Care program assesses a young person’s needs and develops a strategy and plan with the young person to attain their short and long term goals. A key focus of Leaving Care is assisting the young person to gain independent living skills.
So how do I get involved? If you are on a Children’s Court order and involved with Child Protection at the age of 16 years you will most likely be eligible to access the service. A call to the Placement Coordinator at the Department of Health & Human Services will verify this; but also ring us here at CAFS and we’ll provide assistance to find out as well.
Young people may also be referred via the Department of Health & Human Services community service organisations, schools, or by the young person or their family.
The program has three components post care support, brokerage, and mentoring. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can contact mentoring practitioner via the website or by calling CAFS on: 5337 3333.
The Leaving Care program is another example of CAFS engaging with the local community through the work undertaken by the mentoring program. The Connect mentoring program sits within Leaving Care and connects young people (15–21) transitioning from the out-of-home-care system with volunteer mentors.
The mentor creates a safe relationship with the young person and supports their growth. The mentor is often the first person in the young person’s life who wants to spend time with them and is not a paid worker. This is especially true for young people living in residential care. The absence of money sends a strong and clear message to these young people that they are valued and enjoyed for the person they are.
Mentors and mentees negotiate the types of activities they will do together. Sometimes this can be just “hanging out” together for an hour a week over coffee, taking a walk around the lake or cooking a special meal with each other. Other times it might include doing something a little more special like taking the train to Melbourne to visit the zoo or to watch a football game. Recently, a mentor and mentee drove to Warrnambool, where they both saw migrating humpback whales for the first time.
The mentoring relationship provides a safe and fun way for young people in the out-of-home-care system to enhance their social skills and networks and enable the young person to experience what it feels like to be valued and respected. Simple things for many people, yet for these young people it is often the start of seeing themselves differently. Instead of feeling separate, they begin to feel a sense of belonging and take up their rightful place in the community, as demonstrated by one mentee’s quote:
Since Stacey (my mentor) has come into my life, my confidence, self-worth and outlook on life have improved dramatically. Stacey has given me the opportunity to achieve things I didn’t think I could by being enthusiastic, encouraging, guiding and, most importantly, believing in me.
During the time we have spent together, we have completed my resumé, researched careers and courses, gone to appointments and done some of my study/homework. We have also talked about my circumstances and tough situations that arise in my life and she has given me advice on how to handle this. I feel a sense of pride about myself that I haven’t really experienced before, and because of all the time Stacey takes out to help me, I want nothing more than to make her also feel proud of me and to see that the time she’s been spending with me has been worthwhile.
Olivia’s story is one example of where the services provided by Leaving Care have helped a client.
Olivia’s life has not been easy. She experienced abuse and neglect as a child. Like many kids who have left care, problems continued after her child protection order finished. Making the transition to independence is a challenging experience.
Young people who leave care often face this challenge while struggling with alcohol or drug issues, mental health concerns, a lack of resources and violent relationships. As well as dealing with this situation, Olivia was negotiating a new relationship with the family who had been unable to care for her as a child. These interactions were often painful and damaging.
Although Olivia’s journey in the Leaving Care program included some tumultuous and turbulent times, she showed strong resilience, courage and tenacity. She has now been drug free for almost two years. She developed an optimistic view of the future and, with that in mind, completed a number of courses. Olivia is now currently holding down three part-time jobs and is living with a friend in independent accommodation. She has maintained contact with her former carer, who has been a great support person to Olivia, especially in tough times.
Her leaving-care worker is optimistic about Olivia’s future. She said Olivia has a great personality including a good sense of humour, integrity and the ability to bounce back. We wish Olivia all the best for her future. It has been our privilege to walk part of the journey with her.