Ontario should support Crown wards until age 25
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial – Crown Wards
January 23, 2013. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
Any parent of children in their late teens knows that for all their bravado, the kids still need the loving embrace of a supportive home. It’s the safety net that gives young people confidence to launch independent lives.
Sadly, youth who have grown up as Ontario Crown wards in foster care or group homes are cut loose at the age of 18, leaving many struggling to finish high school — let alone post-secondary education. It’s a cruel way to treat vulnerable kids, but the Ontario government has now been given a blueprint to fix this fundamental flaw in its child welfare system.
As the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten reports, a government-appointed panel has released a report recommending that these young people be allowed to stay in foster or group homes until the age of 25, instead of being kicked out at 18. It also urges the government to continue financial and emotional support until the age of 25, as long as they remain in school.
Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Laurel Broten says she is “pleased and inspired” by the report. That’s a promising response, but once the Liberal party chooses a new leader this weekend the government must create real change. To do nothing would be unconscionable.
There are 8,300 Crown wards in the province, raised in the care of Ontario Children’s Aid Societies. Many have survived a deeply dysfunctional childhood; without support in their late teenage years they often struggle with school and employment. Only 44 per cent graduate from high school, compared to 82 per cent of other Ontario youth. They are also more likely to suffer from poverty, homelessness, mental health problems and end up in the criminal justice system.
It is a testament to the potential of Crown wards that nine of the report’s authors grew up in the system, and with Irwin Elman, Ontario’s advocate for children and youth, they are leading the push for action. “This is just the beginning of fundamental change for Ontario and Canada,” said one of the authors, 19-year-old Anna Ho, a Ryerson University social work student.
For a Liberal government that is rightly focused on reducing Ontario’s deficit, funding is always an issue. Elman addresses this bluntly, saying it will cost an additional $26 million a year to extend support to age 25, but the money will be recouped in savings from reduced time in jail or on welfare. Not to mention the millions of dollars in increased tax revenue from productive young adults.
So here’s a message for Liberals gathering this weekend to pick a leader: Once your political machinations are (temporarily) over, tell the new premier to practice good government and take action to make life better for thousands of young people. Give them an opportunity to thrive with support from stable relationships and homes. It’s the right thing to do.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/1319116--ontario-should-support-crown-wards-until-age-25-editorial >