Ontario’s help for Crown wards is a good first step
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – Ontario and post-secondary institutions will pay for tuition for Crown wards; it’s a good first step but the work isn’t finished.
Jun 28 2013. Editorial
It’s an act of compassion, even if it was a long time coming. The Ontario government’s promise of a free post-secondary education for all Crown wards has the potential to make a world of difference in the lives of these young people. Finally, the government — with universities and participating colleges — will help thousands of struggling young people move forward.
After the Star and youth advocates repeatedly pushed the issue, Brad Duguid, the minister of training, colleges and universities, this week announced up to $6,000 a year in free tuition for Crown wards aged 21 to 24. It’s a smart and empathic decision, helping some of the 8,300 young people who are being raised in Children’s Aid Society foster or group homes after being removed from deeply troubled families. The province is their legal guardian – effectively their parent.
The new program expands an earlier effort to help a small group of 300 Crown wards get a post-secondary education. Now, about 850 are eligible.
It’s not perfect. The announcement that Crown ward students will receive a $500 living expenses grant (costs shared by the colleges, universities and Ontario’s ministry of child and youth services) isn’t overly generous.
As any parent knows, expenses for students living away from home are often double the cost of tuition, so that $500 isn’t enough. It should be increased. Still, the money offered is a worthy investment, opening new possibilities to young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
It’s not as if Ontario’s Crown wards have ever had it easy. As the Star’s Louise Brown reports, only 44 per cent graduate from high school, compared to 82 per cent of the population at large.
The system discharges kids from their foster families when they turn 18, and cuts off a small amount of financial support at the age of 21. Most kids in their late teens and early 20s still need the warm support of their families; imagine how many would fare if left on their own.
However well-received the education funding may be, many other Crown wards desperately need the support of, for example, that $500 a month just to get by in life. They must also be considered.
As Irwin Elman, Ontario’s child advocate, says, “When you understand what brought some of them to become Crown wards in the first place, you realize that the journey can be very unforgiving.”
It’s a sad but apt observation. Ontario deserves praise for becoming a leader in the support of Crown wards, but it must continue to help all these young people survive the challenging transition to adulthood.
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