Aftercare is a continuum of support provided to young people who have been in care for a period of time before their 18th birthday and is governed by the Child Care Amendment Act 2015. Aftercare supports should build on the supports and skills that a child in care has been developing. Many young people fair very well in care and in aftercare, however, for a large percentage of young people, aftercare supports fall short of meeting their needs. EPIC has worked with children and young people in care and aftercare for over two decades. As a result, EPIC has built up in-depth experience of where the current supports require review, policy discussion and change. Growing up is a challenging and evolving process that requires tailored supports, guidance, and opportunity. The State, as corporate parent to children in care, has a responsibility to ensure that children are adequately prepared to leave care at 18 years and to start living life more independently. However, as everyone knows turning 18 does not suddenly make the child an independent adult. Many supports, services, guidance and care are still required to help the young person become independent. A result of being in care is that this can often be a particularly challenging time. EPIC would like to see greater discussion around the current provisions and for a holistic young person centric approach to be adopted.
This discussion paper seeks to highlight some of our concerns, as well as provide recommendations on how aftercare supports could evolve and improve to ensure young people with care experience have a better chance of living happy, independent, and fulfilling lives. The aim of revisiting current aftercare supports must be to ensure that children with care experience are given the same life chances as children in the general population and can achieve their full potential. For this to be possible, there needs to be an acceptance that additional supports, beyond what is currently in place, should be provided for the majority of children and young people leaving care. Furthermore, the current supports provided to children with care experience in the lead up to leaving care and indeed in aftercare and beyond can be improved on several levels. The average age in which young people in Europe leave the parental household is 26 years, and yet young people in care, who have often led fractured lives and experienced trauma and disruption, are expected to leave care at 23 years of age if they continue with education or training, or at just 21 years of age if they do not. This basic provision is simply inadequate and must be reviewed. In leaving care, young people are expected to make an accelerated transition from restricted to full social citizenship, which every other young person can do on a more gradual and individual trajectory. A more holistic approach is necessary and embracing the individual needs of each unique child and young person as they age out of care is essential. A robust interrogation of policy and practice must take place to ensure the correct supports are in place that allow these young people to develop into confident, participating, and happy adults in society.