Child welfare under scrutiny

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A government-appointed panel has proposed that Ontario’s child welfare system raise the age for Crown Wards to stay in foster care until they are 25 instead of 18.

Former Crown Wards Anna Ho and Jacob Fraboni helped to write the report that called for “fundamental change” of Ontario’s child welfare system to address the isolation, vulnerability and sense of abandonment experienced by many young people in foster and group home care.The report also shows that only 44 per cent of the wards graduate from high school compared to 82 per cent of Ontario youth. They are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness, suffer mental health problems and become involved with the criminal justice system.

“Research suggests that one of the most important factors in the health of an individual is the support of their community,” said Derek Stockley, the associate dean of social and community service at Humber College. “We know that many of those that are required to leave foster care and crown support at age 18 struggle with completing school and obtaining the resources they require to be successful themselves.”

Having previously worked as a coordinator of social services at Humber College, Stockley believes that the proposed idea of linking continued financial and emotional support to staying in school is a win-win proposition for former Crown Wards.

“By extending the age from 18 to 25 and providing this link, you have the ability to help individuals build a foundation of experience and support that will help counter some of the current struggles those leaving foster care currently face, including homelessness and poverty,” Stockley explained.

Heather Snell, program coordinator of the child and youth program at Humber College, sees this report as an opportunity to help Crown Wards in terms of adolescent development, as the research is very clear that adolescence is an extended period and the primary focus on adolescents is identity information.

“We’re looking at a group of people who are still in the development experimentation stages, well into their twenties,” Snell said. “We see this no more so [than] in people who have been in foster care, who have additional struggles marking their identities.”

With these former wards still trying to find an identity on top of work, the lack of support from the current government is resulting in poor success statistics in terms of education and jobs, according to Snell.

“The wards are expected to leave care at 18. Although legally it makes sense, the socioeconomic institutions are quite at odds with that,” Snell explained. “It’s a transitional process of independence and you perhaps more so than ever in those years [you] require the support of your family not only financially but also for socio and regional support that you require for making decisions as an independent young adult.”

The report’s key recommendation was for the government to work with them to draft a blueprint to overhaul the system in which a final decision can be made.

“It would be difficult to imagine that the ROI [Return On Investment] would not be strong, especially when you look at the fact that youth in the Crown ward are almost half as likely to graduate from high school as the rest of the province,” Stockley concluded. “Helping young people obtain education is akin to helping them obtain opportunity.”

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