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BC lags behind US, UK on extended foster care

One British lobby group is schooling the rest of the world on how to make change, in a hurry.

The Don't Move Me campaign, organized by The Fostering Network, makes the case that ending care at 16 or 18 (depending on the local council) hurts vulnerable youth. The campaign aims to allow all youth to stay in their foster care placements, without being moved, until they're 21 -- if they choose to.

The campaign includes about two dozen on-camera interviews with MPs, plus youth and foster parents, each one speaking about their own transition away from home, or their kids'.

Nearly all of them declare that support is needed far beyond a 16th birthday.

MP Paul Goggins, who brought the amendment to the Children and Families Bill to the House of Commons in June, even said his 28-year-old child is still at home. He noted that ages 16 to 18 are very vulnerable years for all youth. Dumping them out of care in the midst of finishing high school and hopefully starting postsecondary makes little sense, he says.

In B.C., youth "age out" on their 19th birthday. Many lose their homes then. Even before, at age 16 or younger, many youth are put on an independent living contract instead of into family care. The Youth Agreements are worth about $1,100 a month, and outcomes can be rough; just one third of youth who are on a YA graduate from high school by their 19th birthday.

Some support is available after 19, but most young adults don't receive it consistently. In the US, several states have extended foster care to age 21 this year. They include Hawai'i, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Washington, New York and Nebraska.

MP Goggins was a natural fit for the bill; as a former social worker, he understands first-hand the relationship between an abrupt end to foster care, poverty and homelessness.

In an email interview, Goggins said lobbyists should use others' voices to make the issue heard: "It is important that foster carers -- and where possible the young people themselves -- contact their elected representatives and explain their experience."

Later this year, the House of Lords will hear the amendment.

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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