Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Problems start when CYF care stops

Push for teenagers who have had CYFS support to get more help on path to independence.

Robin Vinod says many teenagers don't know the basics about fending for themselves. Photo / Dean Purcell
Robin Vinod says many teenagers don't know the basics about fending for themselves. Photo / Dean Purcell

When Robin Vinod turned 17, he could not vote, sign a tenancy agreement or be responsible for bills, and lacked the skills to cook himself a decent meal.

And yet that was the point at which Child, Youth and Family ended its care for him and left the teenager to fend for himself - family support or not.

"The average age in New Zealand to leave parental care is 23. The gap between 17 and 23 is massive," said Mr Vinod. "But here is the Government saying, 'Nah, you'll be sweet - go out and do your own thing.'

"When I was 17 it was not even in my mind to think about trying to flat, trying to buy my own groceries and stuff like that.

"I never had a clue about how to cook, clean - there are so many things I've learned now about food hygiene. Just basic things that kids need to know before they leave care, or even their own parents."

Mr Vinod, now aged 20, will be one of eight speakers who are in, or have recently left, state care addressing a youth hui this weekend.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and others will be asked to establish an independent body which can represent children and teenagers under the care of Child, Youth and Family.

They will also be asked to extend the length of care to a person's 20th birthday.

While financial support is available through benefits, Mr Vinod said dealing with independence alone - often in the midst of school - had been too much for many of his friends.

"And that's what our hui is about - to tell these stories to the people with influence. Because policymakers haven't lived our lives."

The meeting is being organised by the Dingwall Trust. In 2010, it helped establish the Care Cafe website, which enables users to post comments to each other, and gives practical tips about going flatting and job-hunting.

Mr Vinod said his family situation broke down when he was 15, and he was then given support to attend the boarding school at Mt Albert Grammar.

"My experience was fairly good because I came into foster care a bit more mature. Most kids come in when they are quite young, so all they know is the system.

"I've got a lot of friends that are in care, and it's hard for some of them to go to school and be labelled as a foster child. They just feel different."

He has recently left the trust's transition programme for people in the Auckland area moving from state care to independence, and has almost completed a personal training course.

Without that extra support he would have been lost, Mr Vinod said.

"I have a better understanding of what I need to do now in terms of financial stuff, just getting myself out there. That's not the case for a lot of kids."

A CYFS spokeswoman said that when children in care turned 15 years old, their social worker would begin talking to them about a transition programme for when guardianship ends.

"Our social workers are well aware of, and have strong contacts with, the services that other agencies provide for young people once they leave our care. This could be for housing, health, education or other youth services."

CYFS could also provide additional guardianship for people in foster care who felt unready to fend for themselves past 17 years of age.

But Mr Vinod said only certain people met the criteria, and extending guardianship required a lot of paperwork and an application to the Family Court.

He said many teenagers would also wrongly assume they were ready for complete independence.

- NZ Herald

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