Stop dumping kids in care onto the street

Posted on August 9, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context – 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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One Response to “Stop dumping kids in care onto the street”

  1. Name* says:

    Dear Editor,

    I couldn’t agree with you more that there is a huge number of youth involved with child welfare, and child protection agencies that end up homeless. Tracking the number of cases may seem to be the best means to funnelling the funding, however the issues these youth face begin before leaving the care of child protection/welfare agencies. One aspect that needs to be addressed is where these youth end up. Many are placed outside the region where the were brought up, away from their social supports and families. When homes both foster and group are at maximum, or there is not any within the child’s region they will be placed elsewhere. This ends up being expensed as an OPR-outside paid resource. When youth “age out” many are doing so in a region which could be quiet different then what they have been exposed to. Aging out is also problematic as it will be extended to the age of 21 if the person is enrolled in post-secondary education. This is not always an option, and for some individuals this is not something they are prepared for. If aging out means loss of support including job and financial programming, how do youth not ready for post secondary education avoid becoming homeless? How do they prepare for life after care?

    The idea of tracking these youth seems like a great step. However, the bigger picture and focus should involve how to get more youth out of homelessness and offering more supportive programs to prepare youth for life outside of care, with respect to the unique differences each region offers.

    S MacDonald


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