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Foster care system touches one in 20 British Columbians

All of the four major parties' election platforms are missing a clear strategy to improve B.C.'s foster care system.

Could the reason for the missing outlines be the misunderstanding that the system reaches such a small number of people?

According to this reporter's research, the system directly affects nearly 200,000 British Columbians per year – or about one in 20 of us. Probably many, many more.

Currently, there are just 8,960 children in the care of the province, "the lowest level in more than a decade," according to B.C. Liberal Party materials. It represents fewer than one per cent of the province's kids.

But don't let that frequently-used number fool you.

Across the province, about one in 30 kids (or 31,753 of 962,259 B.C. children and youth) has an open file with the child protection system.

The ministry receives another 30,000 protection reports -- that is, requests by teachers, neighbours, or family -- for investigations each year. That represents another one in 30 kids (there is some overlap).

That's about 61,753 kids. Of the children with open files, there are 34,117 parents recorded by the ministry. For the 30,000 investigation reports, there are two parents per child (at least, at one time), for another 60,000 parents. In addition, there are 3,235 contracts with foster parents -- plus an unknown number of spouses, foster siblings, extended family, etcetera. Plus, an unknown number of kinship caregivers.

So a conservative number of people directly affected by the foster care system is 189,105.

This does not count the impressive number of social workers, advocates, nonprofit administrators, front-lines workers, teachers, housing providers, therapists, doctors, addictions specialists, lobby groups, and others involved with the system. Nor does it count the roughly 5,500 young adults between 19 and 24, who are recent graduates of the care system, many of whom are struggling.

This is a big file. Delivering these services is a significant part of what the new government will do. You'd think there would be more chatter.

From the infamous deaths of Sherry Charlie and the Schoenborn children, to the momentous Hughes review, the hand-over of resources to the aboriginal care agencies, the hiring of the activist-watchdog, B.C's Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, her many damning reports not to mention the other 500 plus children and youth who have died while receiving services of the ministry (half not from natural causes), this file asks, "How does B.C. care for its absolutely most vulnerable citizens?"

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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