Wednesday, 17 May 2023


Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Home Stretch) Bill 2023



Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Home Stretch) Bill 2023

Statement of compatibility

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:07): I lay on the table a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:

In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the Charter), I make this Statement of Compatibility with respect to the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Home Stretch) Bill 2023 (Bill).

This Bill seeks to legislate the Home Stretch program, a program that extends support to young people leaving out of home care until they reach the age of 21. It does not infringe upon any rights outlined in the Charter. This Bill is based on language from Part 19 of the Children, Youth and Families (Child Protection) Amendment Bill 2021, which I would note was examined by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee with no incompatibilities raised.

In my view, the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Home Stretch) Bill 2023, is compatible with human rights as protected by the Charter.

Second reading

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:07): I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

It was 588 days ago now in the other place that the government introduced the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021. This was an important bill, and like all other children, youth and families bills that have been brought forward during my time as Shadow Minister for Child Protection, the opposition parties provided full-throated support for this bill. This bill passed the Assembly. It was debated here in this chamber, and yet before the committee stage the bill was removed. It lapsed at the election. The bill contains several important elements, none more so than those contained in part 19. Part 19 of that previous bill is replicated word for word in this new bill today.

To start my contribution, I would like to read from the government’s second-reading speech at that time, on 6 October 2021, about why it was that these exact measures were so important. At that time the government said it was introducing this legislation:

… to create a contemporary, rights-based framework for the support of vulnerable children and families …

The government went on:

Ensuring the safety and protection of children is amongst our most important responsibilities and reflects our shared goals and aspirations as a society to have strong families in which children can grow and thrive and get the good start in life they each deserve. For those young people leaving care, the Bill recognises the continuing responsibility that the State has to support these young people as they transition to adulthood.

And this legislation that I am introducing today does that. It provides the legislative framework for the Home Stretch program, which again has been supported by the government, by the opposition and by members of the crossbench for a long period of time.

Specifically regarding part 19 of the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021, which is replicated word for word in this new bill, here is what the government had to say – and before quoting the government at some length, I would note that I agree with every word and that even at that time full bipartisan support was provided for this measure:

To enable all young people transitioning from care to thrive as they grow older, the Bill will expand the Secretary’s responsibilities to provide services to assist young people under the age of 21 … who are transitioning from out of home care to adulthood, to include young people who have grown up in permanent care.

Building on the success of Victoria’s landmark Home Stretch program which, in an Australian first, rolled out to all care leavers in January 2021 and was extended to include young people on permanent care orders from July 2021, the Bill creates a legal obligation for the Secretary to provide a transition to adulthood allowance for all eligible care leavers, further positioning Victoria as the lead jurisdiction for care leaver supports in Australia. The allowance will contribute to the costs of accommodation and support of young people who have left care as they transition to adulthood where the young person is living independently or where they are remaining with their existing home-based carer.

We know that many young people leaving care experience a difficult transition and achieve much poorer life outcomes than their peers. It is incumbent on us as a society to take action to address disparities in life outcomes for young people for whom the state has had parental responsibility. Young people supported by a transition to adulthood allowance will have a key worker from Better Futures who will support them across a range of life areas, including with housing, with education and training, with finding employment, with obtaining legal advice, and with assistance in gaining access to health and community services and counselling and support.

Importantly, the minister at the time went on, quite correctly:

Evidence shows that supporting care leavers is not only the morally right thing to do, it makes good economic sense, with downstream savings across other areas of support including homelessness, mental health, and the criminal justice system.

So at that time, 588 days ago, the government introduced exactly this measure, which lapsed at the last election. 588 days ago the government made the point that this is the morally right thing to do and that it will lead to cost savings. In making those assertions the government was entirely correct.

Some history regarding that initial bill is necessary, especially for new members of this place. When the government’s initial bill came to this place, Dr Ratnam, the leader of the Greens party, made it clear that she would seek to make amendments to that bill, and those amendments related to the ongoing debates about raising the age of criminal responsibility. Dr Ratnam was entirely within her rights to do so. Those discussions are incredibly important, and subsequently the Attorney-General made announcements about the government’s own plans. It was in the context of Dr Ratnam’s amendments, and undoubtedly in the context of a looming election, that the government decided not to proceed with that bill. Nonetheless, what the minister said in introducing that bill – that this is the morally right thing to do and that it will actually lead to cost savings for the budget – was correct then and remains correct now.

What the government said at the time regarding really poor outcomes for care leavers was entirely correct. For example, we know that many young people leaving foster care call their 18th birthday D-day. This is because 50 per cent of care leavers within one year will be unemployed, in jail or homeless or will have become a new parent themselves. That is according to Anglicare. A survey from Create, a foundation that seeks to support care leavers, found that 35 per cent of care leavers were homeless within their first year of leaving care, 46 per cent of boys were involved in the juvenile justice system and 29 per cent of all care leavers were unemployed in their first year. Furthermore, other survey results, this time from the Care Leavers Australasia Network, found that 41 per cent of girls leaving care had been pregnant at some point during their adolescence and that 43 to 65 per cent of care leavers suffer from diagnosed mental health disorders.

I think it is because of the compelling nature of these statistics that there has ever been bipartisan support for ongoing care to the age of 21 – a program that, to give credit to the government, the government rolled out. Ms Crozier, when she was shadow minister for child protection, advocated for this program, and it has always had the support of the Greens party. But the government rolled it out. Nonetheless, as the government said 588 days ago, the relatively straightforward matter of providing the legislative framework for Home Stretch has not been completed and must be completed now.

A final point from me: it should not be a complex matter or a matter that involves any dispute to finally put in place the legislative framework for Home Stretch that the government itself put forward 588 days ago. We should be able to do this as a chamber in an expeditious way. Then we must start the next conversation. Young people who have not experienced the care system overwhelmingly receive support from their parents well past the age of 21. We know the statistic that many young people, in particular young men, remain at home oftentimes until their late 20s or even longer. So groups of care leavers have been advocating for an increase in the age at which care ceases to 25, and I want to put on record during this speech that I support that further expansion. The government’s logic was right that a further expansion of support for care leavers should not be seen as a cost to the budget; it is actually a cost-saving mechanism. Given that the budget is to be handed down next week, I would argue to the Treasurer in the other place that now that we are finally coming to the matter of the legislative framework for Home Stretch to 21, he and the Minister for Child Protection and Family Services should introduce measures in the budget to provide care and support to the age of 25. The government has already said that further support for care leavers will in fact lead to cost savings for the budget. They were correct when they put forward that argument. That is not the principal reason, however, why I have introduced this legislation. The principal reason is, as the government said 588 days ago, that it is simply the morally right thing to do.

Lee TARLAMIS (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (10:17): I move:

That debate on this bill be adjourned for two weeks.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned for two weeks.