More than 40 B.C. youth who have experienced living in government care descended on the legislature Wednesday, calling for changes to the child welfare system.
The group met with multiple cabinet ministers and youth transition organizations as part of Fostering Change, an advocacy campaign, to push for more comprehensive supports for youth who are set to leave care, as opposed to the current “needs-based funding” approach.
“No one should fear their 19th birthday,” said Dylan Cohen, youth organizer for Fostering Change who formerly lived in government care.
“When I see my siblings age out, we shudder for them, knowing that 19 is like being pushed off a cliff,” he explained. “We lose our social worker, our funding, our foster home, all because of an arbitrary age that is defined in legislation.”
The government needs a better approach, Cohen said.
Approximately 1,000 youth age out of care every year in B.C.
In a 2014 report, the Office Representative of Children and Youth noted existing processes and resources for youth leaving care do not adequately support a successful transition to adulthood.
More than 50 per cent of youth from care access income assistance or persons with disabilities funding within six months of aging out of care.
In Metro Vancouver’s Youth Homeless Count, 55 per cent of the 681 youth found experiencing homelessness had spent time in care.
The province tried to help address the issue in the 2018 budget, increasing funding for the Agreements with a Young Adult (AYA) program, which helps cover the cost of housing, child care, tuition and healthcare for youth from care that go back to school, attend rehabilitation, vocational or approved life skills program.
But youth advocates say the current supports present yet another barrier for an already marginalized population, because the requirements for accessing support can be unattainable for many who are struggling to cope with childhood trauma.
“It is important to meet youth where they are,” said youth advocate Emily Jackson. “One of the requirements for getting into AYA is to take a 75 per cent full course load and that just wasn’t feasible for me and a lot of my friends who were in the care system.”
Adil Walker-Chagani, another youth formerly in government care, hoped Wednesday’s actions would bring about the much needed changes.
“What they really forget is that everyone that goes to the ministry for help has barriers, has struggles,” said Walker-Chagani. “As much as getting housing and budgeting helps us, without helping our mental health it can screw everything up.”
The change in supports that youth are calling for is about developing relational and peer supports for a young person’s journey, explained fellow youth advocate Ruby Barclay.
“If we are talking about transitioning them into community, we need a community there for them to transition into,” Barclay said. “It shouldn’t be a cliff, it should be walking into a community of support.”
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