Caring to make a difference for Christmases to come
As we move towards Christmas, I am reminded that there are those in the community who will look at this time of year with anxiety and apprehension.
Christmas is a time of joy when families are drawn together but for too many Australians it will be a period fraught with disappointment and feelings of sadness.
Many, through no fault of their own, will feel sidelined as the nation celebrates. Some will experience a feeling of exclusion and the absence of wholeness that family life gives.
One group I am conscious who could fall into this category are young people leaving foster care. Currently there are around 40,000 children and young people in foster care across Australia.
Wesley Mission is one of NSW’s largest private providers of out of home care and I am acutely aware of the importance of the challenges facing young people who are transitioning to independent living.
Many children and young people have little or no family support. As they leave school, often early, they generally also farewell their foster parents and make an attempt to live independently as young adults. There is almost no support to help these young people successfully take charge of their own lives. Many are alone and isolated, forced to navigate a system that can be intimidating, confusing and unforgiving. Sadly, some young people just give up.
It comes as no surprise that young people leaving foster care are less likely to finish school or pursue higher education. More than a third of those leaving foster care become homeless within a year.
Some even become involved in crime. The statistics for boys and young men are telling: around 50 per cent end up in the justice system.
Others face financial difficulties and struggle into adult life. Few have extended family or community networks to fall back upon.
Yet we know that with the right resources and support that situation can be changed. Poor outcomes and an unsound future are not inevitable.
For some young people it will mark the start of a new chapter in their lives and for others a resolution of their hopes and dreams. The pieces will come together to provide structure and surety.
It is important that for a Christian organisation like Wesley Mission that we never give up caring. It is important that we continue to strongly support young people in their late teens as they transition to independent living.
That is why for many years, I have been strongly advocating for the extension of support for young people in foster care from 18 to 21 years. As has been found in countries overseas, young people who have their support extended to 21 years are more likely to remain engaged in education and training, live in secure accommodation and are less likely to become engaged with the justice system.
The intrinsic value of increasing support is not just a financial one, although this support is vitally important. Wesley Mission knows from its own experience that appropriate accommodation with wrap- around support services is critical for young people to achieve their goals.
They also need a safe place to call home and support from adults they can trust, particularly when sharing their dreams, and their doubts. They need a friend they can turn to knowing they will get a good hearing and the right information. Most of all they feel they are not alone and are understood.
At Wesley Herring House and Wesley Lynford Lodge at Carlingford, Wesley Mission is making this a reality. Two years ago with the support of the Property Industry Foundation, the Rotary Club of Sydney and the Cottee Foundation, we began the process of renovating both buildings.
Today the buildings are home to up to 22 young people who have left foster care and are ‘on the way’ and committed to the journey of personal development and achievement. They receive 24-hour support and ongoing case management as they study or seek work and learn life skills like cooking and budgeting. They also set personal goals for education and employment.
It is here that their key needs are met, to ensure that they are immediately safe, happy and secure and can potentially grow into happy, confident adults, without losing more of their adolescent years than they already have.
Having a consistent carer or mentor around also makes it more likely that young people will be able to develop a broader social and recreational life. It also allows them to make mistakes and push boundaries with adults who know and accept them during this time.
Without stability and the continuity of good relationships and attachment, a young person will struggle to have the confidence and support to fully explore their identity, a sense of belonging, and as part of that, their surroundings and boundaries.
At Wesley Mission we believe that every life matters. Our caring does not stop at 18 years or even 21 years. We walk with people on their journey through life so that Christmases to come are celebrated with a true sense of joy, connectedness and belonging.