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“I’m a foster kid, I’m different”: growing up in care

A look at foster care policy in the ACT by student journalists Alison Dance and Charlotte King.

For most 17-year-olds, their independence only stretches as far as having their red P-plates, and maybe even their own car. They are more worried about school exams than how they are going to feed themselves that night.

Dylan Wallace is the exception to this rule. At 17, he was living by himself and by the age of 18 the support he was relying on ended.

That’s because Dylan grew up in foster care.

Sometime between 9 and 18 months of age (no one knows the exact details) he was taken with his two siblings into foster care, was separated from his brother and sister and swapped between families.

“I grew up with the mentality of, ‘oh I’m a foster kid, I’m different. When I’m an adult it’s just going to be me by myself,’” Dylan says.

Dylan was fortunate compared to many young people who go through the foster care system, staying with his last family for ten years.

“I was always part of the family, [I] never felt like they treated me as a foster child.”

In the ACT, youth transition out of foster care from the age of 16, and they completely leave it by age 18. However, they still get support from youth transition teams until age 25.

The ACT Greens released a $2.76 million policy before the ACT election, which included a focus on post-care support for transitioning youth.

As they move out of foster care, young people face a lot of, including being unemployed and even homeless.

Dr Justin Barker, Research Fellow at the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University, says there is a link between being in foster care and ending up in the criminal justice system but it is often not addressed.

“We do only jump in when [the problem] becomes really acute and really problematic, and then you can kind of be seen to save the problem too,” Dr Barker says.

Dylan knows he was lucky to have such a supportive foster family, and now volunteers with the Create Foundation, which advocates improving the care system for youth in out-of-home care.

Listen to the audio to hear Dylan’s complete story:

 

(Download this audio file)

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