In 2019–20, around 1 in 32 (3.1% or 174,700) children aged 0–17 years were assisted by Australia’s child protection system (AIHW 2021). Departments responsible for child protection provide a range of services to support children and young people, including care and protection orders, family support services or, where needed, out-of-home care (OOHC). OOHC provides alternative accommodation for children who are unable to live with their families. This may be related to a variety of reasons, such as they are the subject of a substantiation and are in need for a more protective environment, when parents are incapable of providing adequate care, when alternative accommodation is needed during times of conflict, or when parents/carers need respite. Of the children receiving child protection services in 2019–20, 26% were in OOHC (0.8% of Australian children). Of these, the vast majority (92%) were placed in home-based care, such as in foster care or relative or kinship care, with a smaller proportion (6.6%) in residential care (AIHW 2021).

Children who are, or have been, in OOHC face greater vulnerability across several dimensions of their wellbeing, both during and after they leave care. This may reflect the significant life disruptions that led to their placement in care, wider exposure to disadvantage, or experiences during their time in OOHC. However, it is important to note that a sense of security, stability and social support are strongly associated with better long-term outcomes after leaving care – as such, a young person’s experiences in OOHC can influence their long-term trajectory after leaving a traumatic environment (FaHCSIA 2011).

Reliable national data on outcomes and broader service use of young people who have been in OOHC as they transition out of care and into independence is currently lacking. This national report aims to build the evidence-base on transition outcomes by bringing together Australian Government (Centrelink) and state and territory (OOHC) administrative data to examine receipt of income support and other payments by these young people. The type of financial assistance a person receives often reflects their life circumstances at the time of receipt. It can indicate, for example, those who require support while pursuing higher education, those looking for work or unable to work due to disability or caring responsibilities, or those experiencing personal crises such as family violence or contact with the justice system.

Young people may be particularly vulnerable in the time after they leave care, as they adjust to independent living, often with limited support networks. Studies such as this one can help build a picture of their service use and life circumstances leading up to and after leaving care. These insights can be used to inform better policy, practice and support services for their transition out of care and into independence.