Track kids who have aged out of the children’s aid system

Posted on May 3, 2017 in Child & Family Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – Right now the province can’t know if the children’s aid system is working because it doesn’t follow what happens to the kids when they become adults.
May 1, 2017.   By

That’s the conclusion of a new report from academic and former foster child Jane Kovarikova. The Wynne government should pay close attention.

As Kovarikova rightly argues, if the government is serious about putting children at the centre of its new child welfare legislation — as it says it is — it must track what happens to them when they become adults.

“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?” asks Kovarikova, a PhD candidate with a Master’s degree in human rights from the London School of Economics.

Sadly, what little is known about children who come through the system is distressing and points to a need for systemic change, she says in her report released last week by the office of Ontario’s Advocate for Children and Youth.

What it “overwhelmingly” shows is that people who grew up in foster care or group homes experience low academic achievement, high rates of homelessness, early parenthood, unemployment, conflict with the law, mental health problems and loneliness.

In Ontario, for instance, only 44 per cent of Crown wards complete high school compared to 81 per cent of students in the general population.

It’s easy to blame these poor outcomes on the traumatic backgrounds of many of the kids in care. But the report found the structure and practices of Ontario’s child services system contribute significantly to the problems.

In this conclusion, Kovarikova is not alone. Study after study, including a series of investigative articles in the Star, has found the system too often fails to act in the best interests of the child.

For example, a 2016 government report described a system in chaos, with the province actually losing track of children, requiring no minimum qualifications for caregivers and allowing a growing number of kids “with complex special needs” to be placed in unlicensed programs. Concerns have also been raised about the extent to which racial bias plays a role in determining which children are removed from their families and put into care.

The province’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, has also rung the alarm, warning that the government pours more than a billion dollars annually into a system without even knowing the quality of care provided or how children fare once they set out on their own.

The power to remove a child from their family home is one of the state’s most disruptive. As this new report makes clear, there is ample reason to doubt that this power is being used judiciously, and that, once in care, children are given a real opportunity to succeed. In any case, neither Ontarians nor the government has the information necessary to judge whether the system is working.

There is much hope that the new child-centred bill winding its way through the legislature will resolve many of these problems. But it has no provision to track kids after they age out of foster care and group homes. There’s still time to change that, and the government should. It will take vigilance to fix what’s broken and transparency to rebuild trust.

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