I thank the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, for taking this Topical Issue. After-care is a relatively new development in the long history of State care for children. While the delivery of after-care is provided for in the terms of the Child Care Act 1991, whether it happens is solely at the discretion of the State. Further after-care is not defined by law. The quality and nature of after-care supports and services varies from area to area and from child to child. Some children fare better than others in getting continued support from the HSE, which is over-burdened and financially stretched. The term "corporate parent", which was used some years ago by the then Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs to refer to the State's responsibilities to children in State care, feeds into negative perceptions of a cold and distant parent who is operating on the basis of financial concerns rather than doing the right thing in the best interests of the child.
When young people leave care, the move often comes too soon. CSO figures indicate that on average, offspring continue to enjoy the supports and comforts offered in the family home until the age of 25 years. The picture is different and rather bleak for children in care. Their preparations for leaving care begin at the age of 16 years and they formally leave care at the age of 18 years. While further supports may be made available to young adults leaving care, they often reject further intrusion in their lives and decline any form of after-care support. Those who avail of such supports often find they are limited in nature and scope. Current HSE after-care practice falls far short of fulfilling the diverse needs of young adults when they are perhaps at their most vulnerable. Outcomes for such young adults are poor. They are more likely to have poor educational attainment, engage in criminal activity, get involved in prostitution, attempt suicide or abuse substances. Those are just some of the many pitfalls they face. We must act to prevent these poor results. We must put in place a mechanism that will make a difference for these children.
Last night, I met a young girl who has been in 25 foster homes. Luckily, she has met foster parents who are making a difference in her life. Now that she has reached the age at which her care finishes, all the wonderful work that has been done in recent months will be wiped away and she will be put out into the wide world. Seven members of her family are in foster care. She has no support anywhere. I ask the Minister to ensure something is done in her Department to extend the after-care service. I have also met people with experience in this area who are involved in the After Residential Care Trust. They know what it is about, having been involved in after-care for all of their lives. They are trying to meet the demand that exists, but they are not getting financial support from anyone. The young lady I met last night was bubbly and enthusiastic about everything life could offer. It struck me that if we cannot look after this girl, we are not doing what we should be doing with regard to after-care services.
There is an urgent need to meet needs in this regard. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, when young people were sent into rented accommodation and moved from house to house and no one was responsible for looking after them. I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to examine this very serious situation. I call on her to do everything possible in the instance I have mentioned. I believe a step-down facility should apply to the payments that are made to foster carers. That would enable them, slowly but surely, to move away from the young person and give him or her the responsibility that is necessary. At the moment, the payments are cut off and that is the end of the story. That is not good enough.