What does this mean?
Currently in Ontario, the laws which protect children from abuse and neglect do not extend to children once they turn 16 years old. Most social and legal constructs consider someone an adult when they turn 18. You must be 18 before you can apply for a credit card, apply for a marriage license or social assistance. Changes to the Education Act in 2006 made it mandatory to stay in school until 18, unless students have graduated. Despite these statutes, in Ontario the current child welfare legislation suggests a child is old enough to protect themselves or find help on their own once they turn 16 – two years before otherwise being considered an adult.
Why is this a priority?
Youth who are 16 to 17 and feel unsafe in their family situations are not able to access protection services. They either suffer abuse or leave home with no support. Even if they approach social services for financial assistance, their parents may be contacted – which might put them at further risk. Many become homeless. Ontario is one of the few provinces in Canada that does not provide protection services up to the age of 18. Not only is this out of step with societal norms, it runs counter to the United Nations Convention on Children and Youth. The mandate needs to shift to ensure that all children and youth are protected.
What steps have been taken?
In 2008, the Government of Ontario made changes so that 16 year olds who had been in Children’s Aid care could come back and resume receiving help. At that time, there was a realization of the vulnerability of these young people.
Since then, government has made other announcements and investments for youth in care and former youth in care; however, those young people who have not already been in the care of a Children’s Aid Society cannot access protection or support services after they turn 16.
What needs to be done?
The public needs to stand up and speak out on behalf of the youth who need help and protection but are not able to receive it under the current mandate. Government needs to revise legislation to provide this critical protection.
- Enact legislative, regulatory and/or policy changes to offer protection services to youth up to the age of 18 years, and provide the required resources.