Help crown wards through college: report

TheStar.com – News
Published On Tue Apr 13 2010.  By Tanya Talaga, Queen’s Park Bureau

Allowing crown wards to live in foster homes until they graduate from college or university would boost the quality of 1ife of vulnerable kids, Ontario’s children’s aid societies say.

Kids who grow up in the foster system are not getting the financial and emotional support they need in order to get through high school and beyond, according to a new report prepared by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. It was prepared for Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten. The report is meant as a blueprint to address issues impeding kids in care from succeeding in life.

The state currently fails to play the role of a “good parent” in its lack of policy for kids in care as they become adults, said Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the association. As it stands now, crown wards age out of the system at age 18. “We really think there needs to be more support for a longer period of time,” Lewis said.

Only 42 per cent of 19- and 20-year-olds in state care finish high school compared to the provincial average of 75 per cent, said the report.

Three major problem areas are identified in the child welfare report for 2009-10. They are: Fair funding for aboriginal children’s aid societies, a better funded and easier public adoption system and increased support for youth as they age out of foster care.

In any given day, there are 18,000 kids under the care of children’s aid, including 9,200 who are permanent wards of the crown.

Crown wards are looking for “a place to land” when things get tough as they move onto adulthood, Lewis said. Post-secondary grants are available to crown wards, but more parental help is needed.

“Who do they call when something goes awry in their life, they fail out of first year university and they don’t know what the next step is?” Lewis asked. “They need to have that kind of good parent – a social worker attached to them or their foster family. As they go through those critical adult years, they have some place to land.”

Broten agreed it is vitally important they continue to work to support crown wards. “For children who are crown wards, we are their parents and we have to do everything we can to set them forward on a good footing,” she said. “We know if we don’t do that, they may likely be some of the individuals suffering from poverty later in life.”

The report suggests an overarching policy direction be adopted so that “care should be provided as a good parent would”.

To that end, the report recommends:

A policy, funding and public education campaign push to promote the adoption of youth;

Family-based foster for crown wards until they have finished school;

Living allowances for crown wards to supplement post-secondary tuition support;

Extend health, dental and drug coverage to kids in school until age 25.

There are six designated aboriginal children’s aid societies in Ontario.

A government report, prepared in 2006, pointed out a serious funding gap for aboriginal children living in the north. That gap is still wide, the report says. In the far north, it’s costlier to help children in crisis and agencies have been come close to bankruptcy. For instances, some agencies need to rent planes to get to children on fly-in only reserves.

Broten acknowledges aboriginal services need to be improved and she said she is working on it. “We need a more extensive conversation with respect to aboriginal child welfare,” Broten said.

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