By Anna McKenzie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
British Columbia’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) says COVID-19 emergency supports for youth who are transitioning out of government care will be extended until March 31, 2022.
“We are supporting young adults to stay in their current living arrangements, so they don’t need to transition to independence during this tumultuous time,” says MCFD Minister Mitzi Dean in a Feb. 9 news release.
“This means youth who are currently living in foster care, contracted residential agencies or with relatives through an out-of-care arrangement, such as through the extended family program, will be able to stay in their placements, and youth on Independent Living Agreements and Youth Agreements will continue to receive financial support,” says the ministry.
Youth who choose to stay in their “placement” (e.g. foster home) and who are eligible for funding through the Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) program will also be able to access AYA support — up to $350 per month — while they remain in care.
“Being able to access both housing and AYA at the same time will help more young adults participate in life skills, mental health and educational programs, while remaining in their current home,” Dean says.
Youth who move out of care on their 19th birthday can still access up to $1,250 per month through AYA if they meet the eligibility criteria and are between the ages of 19 and 26. They can use the money for school, job training, rehabilitation or an “accepted life skills program,” according to the ministry.
B.C. has extended supports for youth posed to transition out of government care several times in response to COVID-19 — first in June 2020 and then again in September 2020.
In September, the ministry amended the AYA program to make it “easier” for youth to access life skills programs and rehabilitation supports by expanding program eligibility, decreasing the required hours for participation and including more culturally relevant programming. As it stands, these changes to the program will be in effect until September 2021.
The ministry’s recent announcement comes after mounting calls from community and advocacy groups.
In December 2020, the Representative for Children and Youth, B.C.’s child welfare watchdog, recommended that the ministry “implement changes that would allow for continuing foster home or staffed residential care on a voluntary basis, with the length of extension based on the young person’s readiness to transition out of care.”
As a campaign organizer with Fostering Change, Susan Russell-Csanyi has likewise been pushing for more transitional supports for youth who are “aging out” of care. She says she felt “extremely relieved” to hear emergency supports would be extended.
“I think that there’s a huge wave of relief throughout the community,” she says.
Launched by the Vancouver Foundation in 2013 and supported by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, Fostering Change is a youth-led campaign focused on changing public policy and practices to improve B.C.’s child welfare system.
Russell-Csanyi says the ministry’s decision to extend supports was “well informed by the community.” She estimates she participated in “close to 20 meetings with ministry staff” last year, along with youth and other front-line workers.
“This is a concrete step in creating a future where no youth ages out into homelessness,” says Russell-Csanyi.
The 2016 National Youth Homelessness Survey — which surveyed 1,103 young people who experience homelessness in 47 communities across Canada — found that 57.8 per cent of youth surveyed reported having some sort of involvement with the child welfare system.
Russell-Csanyi says Fostering Change is “still waiting” for B.C. to change the system so that all youth who transition out of government care are automatically enrolled into “universal and comprehensive” transition supports.
She sees universal basic income as a potential model, and this idea is echoed in a recent report by a panel of basic income experts. The report, commissioned by the province and released in January, recommends that B.C. implement a “new targeted basic income benefit for all youth formerly in care.”
The panel’s recommendation includes conditions, such as phasing out the proposed universal basic income by age 25.
Currently, when youth in government care turn 19 and “age out” of the system, they aren’t automatically enrolled into support programs.
In its 2020 Child Poverty Report Card, First Call B.C. recommended that the provincial government “automatically enroll all young people transitioning out of care in an income support program that meets their basic living costs.”
In a joint response to the report card, Minister Dean and Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen wrote on Feb. 1: “MCFD does not currently have a mandate to support young adults after they leave care unless they participate in the Agreements with Young Adults program.”
The basic income expert panel also says that “for those who are unable or unwilling to engage in post-secondary programs, .125AYA.375 benefits are considerably less adequate.”
While Russell-Csanyi says she applauds the government’s interim emergency measures, she says they still aren’t enough.
“This .125emergency support.375 models how a parent would support their child or youth,” she says. She’d like to see supports like these available to “all youth” who’ve been through care “at all times.”
“We encourage them to keep making youth a priority.”