Panel proposes sweeping change to Ontario’s child welfare system
TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
January 23, 2013. Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter
Queen’s Park should raise the age of financial and emotional support for former Crown wards to age 25 from age 21 within the next three years, says a government-appointed panel.
The panel’s sweeping blueprint for change, released Tuesday, also calls on the province to support those who want to remain in foster or group homes up to the age of 25 instead of age 18.
And it urges Children’s Aid Societies to make adoption or other permanent arrangements a priority for the province’s 8,300 Crown wards to ensure that every young person leaving care has adults in their life who will be involved with them forever.
The panel’s 28-page action plan follows a report last spring by current and former Crown wards that called for “fundamental change” of Ontario’s child welfare system to address the isolation, vulnerability and sense of abandonment experienced by many young people in foster and group home care.
“I am very pleased and proud of what we have accomplished thus far, but we’re not stopping here,” said Anna Ho, 19, a former Crown ward who participated in the first legislative hearings into child welfare in November 2011.
“This is just the beginning of fundamental change for Ontario and Canada,” she said.
Ho, a Ryerson University social work student, is one of two youths who have been working with the Ontario child advocate’s office to turn the historic youth-led hearings into action.
As their report from the hearings noted, only 44 per cent of them graduate from high school compared to 82 per cent of Ontario youth. They are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness, suffer mental health problems and become involved with the criminal justice system.
Their report’s key recommendation was for the government to work with them to draft a blueprint to overhaul the system.
Last July, the government appointed a panel of nine youths from the child welfare system and seven community representatives to prepare an action plan.
Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Laurel Broten said she was “pleased and inspired” by the panel’s work and will be “reviewing it closely.”
“The . . . recommendations will be instrumental as we move forward to improve the lives of children and youth in, and leaving, care,” she said in a statement.
The panel — which calls for a separate probe on aboriginal child welfare and group home care — focused on relationships, education and employment, transition support, healthy development, youth justice, group care and ministry policy.
• Within the next three years, the panel recommends schools, colleges and universities boost support to Crown wards to help them complete high school and attend post-secondary education. More financial help to attend university and college and increased internships and apprenticeships should be available within four to six years, it says.
• The panel recommends more support for extra-curricular activities to encourage healthy social development and says all children and youth entering care should receive age-appropriate road maps of what they can expect while in care, along with information about their rights.
• It urges all children’s aid societies to help youth leaving care find affordable housing and says emergency housing funds should be available within six years.
• Within 10 years, the panel recommends the age of protection be raised from 16 to 18, so that older teens from troubled homes can get help.
Irwin Elman, Ontario’s advocate for children and youth, praised the panel for “setting the table for change.”
“I’m so proud of the young people who have been at the centre of this. I’m certainly proud to have been a support to them,” added Elman.
It would cost about $26 million to extend support to age 25 for youth in the child welfare system, according to a study released by Elman last year. But he said the cost would be more than recouped through reduced jail and social assistance costs and increased tax revenue as young adults are better able to complete their education and get good jobs.
Over 40 years, the return on this investment would amount to $132 million in current dollars, Elman said.
< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1318726--panel-proposes-sweeping-change-to-ontario-s-child-welfare-system >