What does this mean?
Despite many positive changes, the Ontario child welfare system still expects 17 year olds to be preparing for independence so that they can leave their foster care home at 18 years of age – before the age most youth complete high school. As of March 2013, there were approximately 5,600 children and youth in care aged 16 or over. 1 While adoption may be an option for some of these young people, others would prefer to stay with their foster family while trying to maintain safe relationships with members of their families of origin. They need strong supports to successfully navigate to adulthood.
Why is this a priority?
Research has demonstrated that youth have better chances of completing school if they remain at home until 21. In the United Kingdom, the ‘Staying Put’ program has shown that young people in care, who stayed with foster carers, were twice as likely to be in full-time education as those who had not.2 Most parents would not expect their own child to move out of the family home at the age of 17 or 18. Youth who have been in care, who have greater challenges, should have at least the same access to family support as their peers.
The emphasis on leaving home at 18 is even more profound for youth with disabilities. As these youth turn 18, they often lose access to supports they had as a Crown ward, leaving the youth to try and find supports in the community through social service programs. Staying at home is critical to helping them complete their education and make the best plans for adulthood.
What steps have been taken?
The recent Youth Leaving Care Hearings (2011), My Real Life Book (2012) and the Blueprint for Change (2013) are strong steps in the right direction. There has been recognition by government of the challenges youth face as Crown wards, especially when leaving care. Progress has been made over the last few years in the form of education assistance, medical benefits, financial, and other supports for this vulnerable group.
What needs to be done?
Government must provide leadership to modernize the service philosophy for youth, giving them the same opportunities and supports as their peers who are not in care.
- Actively encourage a policy agenda of “stay at home” to allow youth the opportunity to complete high school and decide on a career path while being supported by family (including foster and kin) up to and including the age of 21.
- OACAS Ontario Child Welfare Funding and Services Report: Fiscal Year 2012-13. December 2013
- Her Majesty’s Government. “STAYING PUT” Arrangements for Care Leavers aged 18 and above to stay on with their former foster carers, DWP and HMRC Guidance. May 2013