Ontario must help Crown wards get on their feet
An increasing number of parents consider themselves lucky if their “kids” finish their education, move out of the house and find a decent job much before they turn 30. So why do we put the bar so much higher for our most vulnerable youth?
Crown wards are expected to move out of their foster homes and group homes the day they turn 18 — whether they’re finished high school yet or not. Say goodbye to the only home and family-like support you have. What kind of birthday present is that?
When they turn 21 they’re dropped again, this time losing all financial assistance and connection to their case worker. The consequences of this unsupportive and premature launch into adulthood for a group of young people who have already suffered significant trauma in their lives are, predictably, not good.
That’s why changing this is a key recommendation of a report by current and former Crown wards, written after a series of Legislative Assembly hearings. Allowing these youth to stay in their foster homes past 18 and continuing to provide emotional and financial assistance until 25 would give them a more supportive transition into adulthood — similar to what most children get from their families.
It is certainly not all that needs to change in our child welfare system, but it is a clear and tangible place to start. The increased costs could be more than recouped through reduced jail and social assistance costs and increased tax revenues from ensuring these young people can complete their education and find better jobs.
It’s troubling, then, that Children’s Minister Eric Hoskins entirely bypassed this recommendation when he welcomed the report last week. He did agree to another recommendation for a working group of youth, children’s aid societies and others to identify ways to improve our child welfare system.
Fundamental changes are needed. The system regulates and requires paperwork for just about every single aspect of Crown wards’ lives and yet, somehow, misses the only thing that really matters: how are the kids doing? Far too often the answer is not good.
Hoskins needs to know that these young people and Ontario’s child advocate Irwin Elman, who is working with them, won’t be bought off with attention for a day or a review of the system that doesn’t produce real change. “He does seem committed,” says Shanna, one of the youth organizers of the Legislative hearings. “I’m optimistic they really do want to take some action.”
That any of these young people can be hopeful and optimistic given the number of times they’ve been let down already is a minor miracle. Hoskins can’t fail here. He can’t do what many ministers on many files before him have done — welcome a report, agree to study the problems but ultimately implement too few solutions.
Stewart, 65, knows all too well the danger of that. He aged out of the child welfare system 47 years ago but says he connected with everything the youth in it now were saying. “They are the same issues and challenges I dealt with way back when.”
By producing a powerful report, these youth have done all they can to highlight the problems and identify solutions in the hopes that the system will do better for the 8,300 children still in care than it did for many of them. It’s up to Hoskins now.
When the government removes children from troubled homes and becomes their legal guardian it is, in effect, saying society can do a better job of caring for them than their parents. Ontario must do a far better job of living up to that promise, starting with improved support for Crown wards as they make the transition into adulthood.
Children's Minister Eric Hoskins
21 May 2012