Widened Support for Foster Kids Exiting Care Welcome, but Much More Needed: Critic

BC extends program for some youth who ‘age out.’

By Andrew MacLeod 18 Oct 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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SFU economist Marvin Shaffer called additional $5 million for foster kids leaving care ‘welcome’ but ‘a far cry short’ from what his research has recommended government provide.

The British Columbia government is widening a program that provides support for some young adults after they age out of government foster care at 19 years old.

But an economist who co-authored a recent report on supporting people aging out of care said that while the change is welcome, it is far short of what’s needed.

“I think they’re really important changes today,” said Stephanie Cadieux, the minister of children and family development, in a conference call with reporters.

The Agreements with Young Adults program provides an average of $1,000 a month to young people who were formerly in government care, as long as they were enrolled in school or a rehab program for addiction.

While the support was previously available for up to two years for people under the age of 24, it will now be available for up to four years until people turn 26 years old. Also, it will now be available to people taking what the press release calls “life skills programs that focus on financial planning, healthy living and employability.”

Cadieux said the government also covers Medical Service Plan premiums, plus extended health, optical and dental benefits for people in the Agreements with Young Adults program.

“At the age of 19 under the law you are deemed to be an adult,” she said. “We know, though, when it comes to real life and when it comes to kids establishing themselves as adults and looking after themselves, they may not be ready at 19.

“Many kids in average homes with two parents at 18 or 19 or 20 or 21 are still very much relying on their parents support for any number of things,” she said. “We know they need some extra support. That’s what the AYA supports and our Youth Education Assistance fund are there for, and we hope that youth will take us up on that.”

Cadieux said the budget for the program will depend on its popularity, since there will be no cap and there will be funding available for as many as want it. As of August, 654 people were in the program and since 2008 more than 2,000 have used it, she said.

“We’re making an educated guess that it will probably add about 500 kids into the AYA programs,” she said. “We’re anticipating a new budget spend of about $5 million for this.”

The ministry’s total budget is more than $1.45 billion this year, part of the $47.5 billion the government plans to spend.

Marvin Shaffer is a Simon Fraser University economist who with public policy researcher Lynell Anderson wrote Opportunities in Transition: An Economic Analysis of Investing in Youth Aging out of Foster Care.

The report found that for every young person who loses support, the government later spends as much as $268,000. That figure reflects higher health-care costs, greater likelihood of involvement in crime and lost tax revenue from unemployment and underemployment. It doesn’t include the costs of homelessness, which affects 45 per cent of youth who age out of care, early parenthood and drug abuse.

About 7,000 children are in care in B.C. at any given time and roughly 1,000 of them age out each year.

“While an additional $5 million is welcome, it is a far cry short of what we recommended as an amount that would be needed to cover just basic living requirements,” Shaffer said in a phone interview.

If 80 per cent of 19 to 24-year-olds who were formally in government care received support with housing, food and other basic needs, it would cost about $50 million a year, Shaffer said. “This isn’t a huge amount of resources, in part because it’s not a huge population.”

For many youth who are not in government care, their families continue to support them well past the age of 19, in many case because they make it a priority, he said. “We want to replicate for these youth what families are doing for their children.”

The B.C. government frequently says it is doing more than any other jurisdiction in Canada to support youth leaving foster care, he added.

“That shouldn’t be the standard,” he said. “The standard should be what’s the basic amount we need to support these youth as they transition to adulthood, and we’re still a far cry from that.”

B.C.’s representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has argued for extending the standard age for foster care support to at least 21 years old, and in some cases to 24.  [Tyee]

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