Out of Home Care

Young people in and transitioning out of out of home care experience a myriad of challenges. ‘Care leavers’, which includes a disproportionate number of Aboriginal young people, experience adverse outcomes across a range of domains leading to high social and economic costs for the community. This longitudinal study uses a population-based method to examine the pathways of young people in and transitioning from out of home care in Western Australia. The combined findings from the population-based data, together with an in-depth understanding of their lived experiences, will identify a best practice model for improving their transition from care experiences to facilitate improved outcomes.

Teenagers around a bonfire eating pizza

Research aims and objectives

  1. To gain a population-based understanding of how varied pathways are associated with particular outcomes of young people in and transitioning from out of home care.
  2. To map longitudinal pathways and the lived experiences of young people as they transition to leave out of home care and after exiting out of home care.
  3. To identify key factors for meeting the cultural, social and developmental needs associated with successful transitioning from out of home care for young people.
  4. To identify Aboriginal family and community perspectives on the barriers and enablers important to the achievement of developmental milestones from a cultural perspective.

The project’s key outcome is to translate the findings to inform programs that are matched to the diverse needs, experiences and aspirations of young people in their transition from out of home care and post out of home care programs to ultimately improve their outcomes.

Research significance

The project is significant and innovative for four related reasons:

  1. The methodology proposed is novel and comprehensive, focusing on some of the most socially excluded young people in the nation who, without improved interventions, are likely to continue to have poor outcomes into adulthood
  2. The data generated will provide new evidence for translating research into more effective practice for young people leaving care
  3. The data on Aboriginal young people and their families will provide new contextual evidence directly addressing overrepresentation in out of home care and later over-representation in poor adult outcomes
  4. Current approaches to out of home care represent costly and ineffective social policy which this project intends to redress by suggesting new ways forward. Australian expenditure on out of home care was $2.1 billion, and is increasing annually by seven per cent.

The wider economic cost to the community is conservatively estimated at $379,000 per young person in out of home care. By contrast, the average expenditure for care leavers 18-21 years is estimated at only $5,000 p.a. The combined individual, social and economic costs are enormous, thus developing evidence which can improve outcomes for young people in and exiting out of home care is critical.

This project offers an innovative and comprehensive methodology that will result in new knowledge about young people in and exiting out of home care. The project will increase both the depth and the breadth of our understanding of out of home care, thus providing our industry partners, Department of Communities and Wanslea Family Services, with the most comprehensive knowledge in the country and new insights not previously available. The findings will be highly relevant to other jurisdictions for planning similar programs. Moreover, the novel methodology can be replicated in other states and internationally. It will be the largest study of Australian Aboriginal children leaving out of home care.

Conducting the project in WA has two key strengths: 1) WA has the leading data linkage (DL) capacity nationally, thus enabling a population-based approach not previously undertaken; and 2) it enables a focus on Aboriginal young people who are over-represented in care nationally and whose leaving care outcomes are poor.

Intended research impact

  • This project (three sub-studies) will help us understand the experiences of young people as they to begin adulthood, and find out what helps a successful transition from care.
  • Right now, we do not know enough about where and when you people need help; we hope the information from the study will improve the lives for young people as they begin their adult lives.
  • Representative sample for wider generalisability
  • Capturing experience/wisdom of care leavers
  • Influence policy and service delivery
  • Translation activities to influence policy will include presentations to the WA Ministerial Council for Child Protection on findings and recommendations as well as seeking opportunities to disseminate nationally relevant information to other fora such as the Council of Australian Government (COAG) Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) which has carriage of child protection and the Closing the Gap initiative.
  • Knowledge translation activities will include briefing reports, presentations at professional and policy conferences and seminars. Industry partners will also be part of the dissemination strategies. Media such as The Conversation and support from university media offices will aid widespread public media dissemination in consultation with our partner organisation. Regular e-newsletters will be disseminated to keep researchers, agencies, young people and practitioners informed of project findings.

Methodology

This project uses a population-based method to identify the key practice and policy interventions required to meet the cultural, social and developmental needs of young people transitioning from out of home care including a significant Aboriginal cohort. The intended outcome will inform a best practice model involving a range of relationship, social, community and material supports to advance the opportunities and aspirations of care leavers.

This Australian Research Council-funded longitudinal study comprises three related sub-studies as follows:

Study 1 (S1) is a population-level analysis of outcomes for young people who are in and transitioning from out of home care using linked WA administrative records. To understand the unique influence of having been in out of home care and having had Department of Communities contact, comparisons will be made between three matched groups: out of home care, non-out of home care Department of Communities contact, non-out of home care, non-Department of Communities contact.

Study 2 (S2) extends from and complements S1 and addresses study aims two and three. It is a longitudinal, prospective mixed method study of a subset of young people from the age when leaving plans commence (between 15 and 17 years) for young people who have recently transitioned from out of home care (18 to 25 years).

Both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected over a two-year period involving standardised outcome measures and individual interviews. There will be five points of data collection for each participant in this longitudinal study: baseline, six, 12, 18 and 24 months. Interviews will be conducted with young people and caregivers to examine key events and influences and the variable contexts in which they have entered and remained in out of home care. A number of standardised outcome measures will be administered about key dimensions of the young people’s lives (see Table 2). An important strength of our methodology is that all standardised measures will be validated against population-based data.

Study 3 (S3) is a phenomenological Aboriginal study investigating the perspectives of Aboriginal young people in out of home care, those who have left out of home care, their families and communities from Perth and regional and remote communities (study aims three and four). The project will use an overarching lived experience method to engage out of home care Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal young people to enable ongoing dialogue about their experience of care leavers and responsive support services.

Participant information

Inclusion criteria:

  • Males and females aged between 15-25 at time of recruitment for S2, with the age bracket dropping to 13 for S3.
  • Been inout of home care for six continuous months in WA during the ages of 15-18 e.g. foster care, kin care, residential care and/or group care.

Industry partners

NumberNameParticipant Type
1Curtin UniversityAdministering Organisation
2Department of CommunitiesPartner Organisation
3Wanslea Family Services Inc.Partner Organisation
4The University of Western Australia (Telethon Kids’ Institute)Other Eligible Organisation
5Monash UniversityOther Eligible Organisation