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For foster care kids, the roses and thorns of BC's budget

For the 40 per cent of teens in the province who age out of foster care at 19 and hit the streets, what the B.C. Budget 2013 gives, the B.C. Budget 2013 taketh away.

First, the goods:

The ministry that cares for vulnerable kids -- on all citizens' behalf -- is the Ministry for Children and Family Development. Buried in the budget's service plan is the following statement, promising to provide more (and better?) services to youth aging out of the system:

"[The ministry will] develop and expand Post-Majority Services and Supports in collaboration with other ministries, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, and the private sector to better support young adults transitioning from care or youth agreements [at 19] up to age 24."

What that may mean, exactly, is not laid out in the service plan.

A focus on "post-majority services," as it's called in bureaucratic circles, is hot. One of George W. Bush's last acts as U.S. president in 2008 was to extend foster care support three years, to age 21 -- though states may opt to exit youth earlier. It was part of his Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act -- a generally well-received piece of legislation among family support groups.

Meanwhile, in B.C. the ministry's government-appointed watchdog, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has been waiting since last spring to have her mandate expanded to include the 19- to 24-year-olds who have aged out of the system (see page 16 here).

On the other hand

Among teens who are wards of B.C. (ie. we are all their collective parents), 42 per cent have a diagnosed disability (see page 19 here).

As has been reported elsewhere, on Feb. 20 NDP leader Adrian Dix called the government out on its budgetary shunning of adults with disabilities. For those receiving services under the personal supports initiative, including adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, for example, support has been reduced by one-third, the Times Colonist reported.

In addition, support for 19 year-olds with disabilities as they age out of the foster care system are profoundly miserly, according to Jane Dyson, the executive director of the B.C. Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.

Dyson is sending a letter this week to the leaders of the four main parties running in the upcoming provincial election, asking for specific measures to improve the lives of people living with disabilities -- including young adults.

"The $906 they get a month is inadequate," she told The Tyee, pointing out the connection between foster care, disability and the street.

"It means many people with disabilities end up couch-surfing, living in shelters, constantly at-risk of homelessness, or homeless. I've met with every minister of social development since the Liberals came in. We ask for an increase, they say there's no money."

The coalition is asking for an increase in assistance to $1,200 a month, a province-wide poverty reduction plan, and a restoration of funding to Community Living B.C., the Crown agency that funds adult group homes, day programs, and other supports.

Pieta Woolley reports on solutions to breaking the link between foster care and youth homelessness for The Tyee Solutions Society. This article was produced by Tyee Solutions Society in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI), with funding from the Vancouver Foundation. TCI and the Vancouver Foundation neither influence nor endorse the particular content of TSS' reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this story or other Tyee Solutions Society-produced articles, please see this website for contacts and information.

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