Last month I participated in a seminar on sustainable housing for young people leaving care. What struck me at the time was how far we have come in the past six years with better programs and services, commitment and responsiveness. I have no doubt that we are doing better at smoothing the transition to independence from state care.
The Create Report Cards in 2009 and 2011 on transition from care confirm this by acknowledging the higher rate of transition planning in South Australia, post care services for all ages and the Rapid Response commitment which extends to young people who have left care.
However, it is the emotional and personal challenges, for the young people and for us, which remain the same.
This week I spoke on the phone to an angry homeless young man who felt let down by everyone and was rejecting every offer of help while lashing out at our failure to help. While his situation was his alone, the frustration on all sides was common.
To state the obvious, growing into adulthood is troubling. For young people in care the emotional roller-coaster is often deepened by issues of family identity, unresolved hurt and fear of impending loss. And unsurprisingly they are unable to articulate this. So the caring adults seem at times to be trailing behind in the wake of that wild ride.
Tension arises almost every day in making room for and facilitating the young person’s decisions. The choices they make may be contrary to their best interests. And the adults around them may disagree on what is best. Needless to say, things go wrong.
Added to this, is the dissonance between what we know is good and preparing for the not-so-good, that is, planning for independence at ages 15 and 16 when many young people need more security, not less. And requiring them to live alone at ages 17 or 18 when the company of others can be reassuring, even if it is because you make mistakes together. At times, it feels like we pre-determine a poor outcome in our pursuit of a timely transition.
For the majority of young people in care their transition to adulthood is not so very different to their peers, except that it is enforced at a younger age. But for the significant minority who experience homelessness within the first few years of leaving care we can clearly do better.
In the recently completed consultation with workers I learnt that good preparation for adulthood starts well before age 15 and it means paying close and frequent attention to relationships with carers, siblings and friends. The inclusion of carers in all planning for a child, robust contact arrangements for separated siblings and giving priority to positive friendships will all contribute to a positive move from care.
This is where the excitement and value of professional judgement and skill is at its highest. Planning for transition should be flexible and creative. Really good planning will make any system fit for purpose. Really good judgement will balance realities with dreams.
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