By Stephanie Cadieux
Minister of Children and Family Development
VICTORIA - I’d like to address a common misconception regarding the way in which we support youth as they transition out of government care.
Some people seem to believe that government services for children and youth in care act merely as a temporary lifeline that ends abruptly after those young people reach the age of 19.
This could not be further from the truth.
There is a comprehensive range of services in B.C. to help address the social, health, economic and educational needs of all current and former youth in care.
Well before they reach the age of 19, youth in care have access to outreach workers, youth support workers, youth and family mediation, safe house and emergency shelter beds, and transitional housing. This is in addition to programs that promote independent living. Social workers work with youth to plan for their transition into adulthood and ensure they are aware of the supports and services available to them once they do become adults.
After a young person leaves government care, we continue to try to set them up for success through services and programs that help them acquire additional life skills, education and financial supports. For example, since 2002 our partnership with the Victoria Foundation on the Youth Education Assistance Fund has provided $10.3 million in bursaries so that more than 1,350 former youth in permanent care could engage in vocational training and post-secondary education.
We offer the Agreements with Young Adults program, which gives financial assistance, including health and dental coverage where needed to 19 to 24 year-olds who were formerly in care or on a Youth Agreement. Since 2008, the program has helped nearly 1,700 young adults upgrade their education or take part in a rehabilitative program.
We also work closely with our non-government partners to enhance the availability of resources and increase opportunities for youth transitioning from care. For instance, our partners at the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks provide support, transition and advocacy services to youth in care, and youth receiving ministry services. Over the last year, we awarded the Federation $65,000 to develop youth-friendly planning resources and to enhance the Dream Fund bursaries and Transition Kits, which offer financial support to young people interested in career training or educational opportunities.
Government also provided $500,000 to the Adoptive Families Association, so they could reach out to former youth in care to inform them about, and help connect them with services. Part of that work includes the development of accessible young adult-friendly support tools.
Further, the Ministry of Children and Family Development works to link youth with other services such as medical and financial supports, skills training, employment services, and therapeutic and addictions programs through other ministries. We are also an active partner in government's continuing efforts to create better transitions for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities through the Services to Adults with Developmental Disabilities Initiative.
There is always more we can do and part of our focus now is to ensure young people are aware of, and able to access the many supports that are available. In fact, the ministry is already engaged in initiatives - such as our most recent STRIVE program which we are piloting with YWCA Metro Vancouver- to improve planning, co-ordinate supports and use existing services for current and former youth in care more effectively.
With that being said, we know that outcomes for youth who leave care at age 19 remain below those of their peers who come from more traditional family circumstances. The reality is that, on average, kids who are supported with permanent, stable, long-term family relationships tend to achieve higher levels of success as adults.
Even as we work to increase the coordination of supports for youth transitioning from care, it is equally important for us to focus our energies on improving outcomes for children and youth right from the moment they first come into care. Ultimately, the best way to do that is to help them achieve those permanent family connections.
To that end, we are putting an emphasis on adoption and other forms of permanency as part of every child and youth’s care plan. That’s why we’re investing an additional $2 million to help more children and youth in care find forever homes through guardianship and adoption.
We want to ensure all children and youth in care have the best possible opportunities for success in life. Every young person takes a different path to adulthood and self-sufficiency. Our task is to support them along the way, to provide as much stability as possible and to help them gain the life and work skills they need to become independent.