Stop dumping kids in care onto the street – Opinion/Editorials – Without support systems in place, huge numbers of kids who have been in care end up homeless. It’s time authorities tracked these kids to know why they end up there and provided supports to ensure they don’t.
Aug. 9, 2017.   By

It seems counter-productive, not to mention profoundly unjust, to spend billions of dollars on a child welfare system only to dump Crown wards onto the street, without support, when they “age out” of care, stifling the very opportunities the system exists to create.

But that seems to be what’s happening to a large proportion of children who have been in foster care or group homes across Canada.

One result, according to a new study is that an astonishing number of them become homeless.

The report from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home Canada found 60 per cent of homeless youth have had some involvement with child protection services over their lifetime, a rate almost 200 times greater than that of the general population.

Moreover, of those with a history in the child welfare system, almost two of every five respondents “aged out” of provincial or territorial care. That means they lost access to supports – such as financial or job programs – before they were ready.

No wonder, then, that one of the report’s main recommendations — one that governments should heed — is to provide ongoing support, if needed, until youth in the system reach the age of 25.

That’s a far cry from what happens now. In Ontario, for example, under recently passed legislation youth in care are now supported until they are 18, up from 16. And an earlier policy change means kids in foster families who are still in high school can continue to be funded until they are 21.

These are both steps in the right direction. But as the report suggests, they don’t go far enough.

Ontario’s system falls short, too, in that it has no formal process for tracking what happens to Crown wards in adulthood, and thus, as the report points out, lacks the information it needs to improve outcomes.

As Jane Kovarikova, a former foster child rightly noted in a recent study: “If you don’t measure what’s happening to the youth you have been serving . . . how do you know if your policies or reforms are having any impact?”

Kovarikova found that people who grew up in foster care or group homes not only experience high rates of homelessness, but also low academic achievement, early parenthood, unemployment, conflict with the law, mental health problems and loneliness.

Ontario spends about $1.5 billion each year on its child welfare system, seemingly without even knowing the quality of care provided or how children fare once they set out on their own. What little is known, however, points to a need for systemic change.

Governments can start by ensuring that their obligations to those in care don’t end abruptly when their wards reach adulthood.

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