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Rights + Justice

A Call for Canadians to Fill the Gaps in Our Child Welfare System

Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada calls on citizens to be youth-in-care ‘allies’ with money and support.

Katie Hyslop 21 Sep

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

Canada’s child welfare system shows clear gaps between the needs of kids and youth in care and the services provincial governments provide them.

Whether it’s the less than 50 per cent high school graduation rate for kids in care, the pipeline from foster homes to homelessness, or the average five foster home transitions the estimated 67,000 Canadian kids in permanent care today will experience, even the most resilient kids and youth face huge obstacles to become independent adults.

In the absence of a reformed child welfare system, the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is calling on Canadians to donate to kids in care and the roughly 235,000 kids across the country facing apprehension because of neglect — often synonymous with poverty — and abuse.

Since 2014 the national charity has pursued a $60 million fundraising goal for its National Campaign for Child Welfare, putting the funds towards prevention programs and supports for kids and youth in care.

Relying mainly on corporate donors like Telus, Royal Bank of Canada, and Air Canada, as well as private donors and family foundations, the charity has raised $42 million so far, benefitting over 67,000 kids across the country.

It aims to reach its goal by 2019, and this month the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is rebranding the fundraiser as Stand Up for Kids, calling on the public to become allies and donors for youth in and from care.

“We launched Stand Up for Kids as a [fundraising] campaign, but also with a view that it could become a movement for attracting Canadians from any part of the country who want to join us in standing up to support kids in local communities,” said Valerie McMurty, Foundation president and CEO.

“It’s pretty hard for private foundation money to change the system. But Stand Up is definitely a rallying cry to point out the inequities. Most kids take the safety and fairness that Canada offers for granted, and too many of our kids in care just don’t have those same opportunities.”

Lower Mainland second largest recipient of charity’s funds

Established in 1979 by the Children’s Aid Society in Toronto, a broad donor base allowed the Foundation to go national 15 years ago. Today British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is the second largest recipient of the Foundation’s funds outside of Toronto, including youth transition programs offered by the Pacific Community Resources Society. The Foundation’s operating costs are covered by funds additional to the $60 million goal, with a 2017 target of spending 24 cents to raise each dollar.

So far, the Stand Up for Kids funds claim to have helped: nearly 10,000 youth transition to independence; nearly 12,000 receive a post-secondary education; close to 8,000 kids and youth stay connected with their culture and learn about their heritage; and over 20,000 participate in recreation and extracurricular activities like summer camps, sports, and arts lessons.

“These are things that often aren’t available [to kids in care] based on a number of complicated reasons,” said Dylan Cohen, a spokesperson for the campaign and a former youth in care who received Foundation scholarships and bursaries to attend university.

Those reasons include youth aging out of care lacking the emotional and financial support of family; living in poverty after aging out; a lack of available, affordable, youth-friendly housing; and a fractured and overtaxed mental health system that can mean long waitlists, or no services at all.

The Foundation also funds prevention programs working with the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Native Courtworkers and Counselling Association of British Columbia to strengthen families and prevent child welfare apprehensions. In Ontario, it’s working on convincing the provincial government to fund front-line prevention work in Toronto, with less focus on child apprehensions.

Other ways to help besides money

While a national charity alone can’t stop the cycles of abuse that lead many kids coming into care, Cohen said, “it helps deal with the direct result of it, which is youth that are traumatized and vulnerable, navigating independence without our traditional caregivers.”

As in British Columbia, race and poverty play big roles in who is taken into care in Ontario. But while nationally there is an overrepresentation of Indigenous kids in care, in Toronto black families are singled out for child apprehensions because of racism, inequality and a lack of mental health supports.

As much as the Foundation needs more funding to reach its goal, it says money isn’t the only way to support kids and youth. The Stand Up for Kids webpage encourages Canadians to sign a pledge aligning themselves with kids in care and those facing abuse in Canada, as well as suggesting they consider other options like becoming a foster parent or a mentor to a child or youth in care.

“We’re providing opportunities for the general Canadian population to take part in the lives of youth in care, and enriching the opportunities for us former youth [in care],” said Cohen.

“It’s our responsibility as Canadians to do the best we can for youth that we take responsibility for by apprehending.”  [Tyee]

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