B.C. must improve supports for youth ‘aging out’ of government care: watchdog report

Province of BC
WatchThe future is a terrifying reality for many youth aging out of government. Some will be faced immediately with poverty. Some end up living on the streets. But a new report today is urging the province to stop the trend by extending its support. Julian Kolsut has the details.

 

British Columbia’s representative for children and youth is calling on the province to improve its support system for youth transitioning out of government care after they turn 19.

The almost 100 page report from Jennifer Charlesworth’s office says the current system “virtually shapes a life of poverty” for vulnerable youth in the province.

“The abrupt care of government care is wrong,” she said on Tuesday.

“It’s wrong for human development, it’s wrong for the future health of our province, and wrong in terms of cost effectiveness.”

About 850 young people transition out of care every year and her report says supports for them are “notoriously scarce, inequitable, rigid and a poor fit.”

It says the provincial government’s temporary measures in response to the pandemic demonstrate that it can act quickly to make the kind of changes advocates have long been calling for.

The report points to numerous problems with the program that provides aged-out youth with up to $15,000 a year for four years, as long as they’re going to school or participating in a life skills or rehabilitation program.

The representative’s report makes recommendations including the automatic enrolment into the young adults program up to age 27 for youth from all types of government care in B.C.

The report says less than 10 per cent of eligible young adults were receiving money under the young adult’s program as of March and there are significant disparities in access based on gender, race, region and education level.

The government says it has expanded the eligibility criteria to include a wider range of options for life skills and rehabilitation programs until September 2021.

Charlesworth’s office is calling for lasting changes, recommending the creation of a province-wide system of dedicated transition workers through community agencies to provide support for these young people up to age 27.

She says youth are entitled to exploring their futures and taking chances.

“People are expected to go from child to adult in a mere 24 hours,” she added.”

“They need our love, they need our advice and support, they need our spare bedrooms, some walking around money, they need to know they can take risk and fail and know we will help them back up.”

In response to the pandemic, B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development is allowing youth turning 19 to stay in their current living arrangements until next March, the report says, while youth who are receiving funding after transitioning out of care may continue to get the money until next September, even if their eligibility status changes.

Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development, responded to the report in a statement, saying services for youth in care who were transitioning into adulthood were non-existent or inadequate for many years and while the province has come a long way, there’s more to do.

“I am committed to this work and to joining forces with youth and our colleagues and partners throughout the social sector to create a system that does not just provide young people from care with the bare minimum to survive, but rather creates a better system that supports them to excel, pursue their goals and reach their full potential.”

Advocates sat youth leaving care are disproportionately living in poverty and on the streets.

“We did the study just before the pandemic struck, one out of every three people on the street that are in homelessness have previously been in care as a young person,” said Diana Gibson of the community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria.”

“That number jumps to 55 per cent when looking at those people 16-25… of that population living on the street or in shelters.”

Many are applauding the recommendations.

“It’s night and day, it’s the difference between a positive outcome, and a possibly incredibly traumatic outcome,” said Kelly Roth of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Supports need to go on until someone is ready, and feels ready, to transition to what is next for their lives, that doesn’t start at stop and age 19.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2020.

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