Protesters demand Child and Family Services care for kids until they're 25

A group made up of current and former youth in care, 25Not21, demonstrated in Winnipeg Friday, asking the province to extend the age young people leave Child and Family Services' care to 25 from 21 or 18 years.

Dozens of former youth in care and their allies took part in theatrical demonstration Friday in Winnipeg

Dylan Cohen, founder of 25not21, is a current youth in the care. He organized a demonstration on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Friday to ask government to extend care to age 25. (CBC)

A group made up of current and former youth in care, 25Not21, demonstrated in Winnipeg Friday, asking the province to extend the age young people leave Child and Family Services' care to 25. 

Signs ask for government help at a demonstration in Winnipeg on Friday. (CBC)
Currently youth in care are supported until they're 18 but they are able to apply to extend their care to 21 if their social worker supports the idea, but 25Not21 would like to see all youth age out at 25.

Demonstrators held a "CFS 18 Year Dash: A Race Against Aging Out" on the north lawn of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Contestants held an artificial race to show the challenges youth in care face in becoming independent adults.

"The government is our parent," said Dylan Cohen, 20, who's close to aging out of CFS and the founder of 25not21.

"A lot of us are dealing with substance abuse issues and trauma that you carry from growing up in care," Cohen said.
A group made up of current and former youth in care demonstrated at the Manitoba Legislature. They are asking the province to extend the age young people leave Child and Family Services' care to 25 years. 0:42

"I was homeless for a few months in my experience in care, and I wasn't violent or anything. I didn't have any major issues. It's just a super common experience."

The government is our parent.- Dylan Cohen, youth in CFS care

Extending the care CFS youth receive to 25 from 21 will help level the playing field for young people often behind their peers when it comes to coping skills, education and job experiences, Cohen said.

Majority of CFS youth don't graduate

33.4 per cent of students in care graduate high school in Manitoba, whereas 89.3 per cent of students who have never received CFS care graduate, according to a 2015 report by the University of Manitoba's Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

Last year, the Winnipeg Street Census found that 7.5 per cent of homeless people said transitioning from CFS caused them to become homeless.

When Cohen thinks of his 21st brithday, it scares him. 

"I'm losing the only stability and support that I've ever had in my life," he said.

While Cohen worries about his own future, he said he's more concerned for other CFS alumni who struggle with addictions, mental health issues, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

NDP not willing to extend age: advocate

Cohen has said he met with Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross in 2015, but he said, she has declined subsequent meetings. 

"Kerri Irvin-Ross said we were fortunate to have a meeting with her before and has rejected any meeting offers since," said Cohen.

In an email to CBC, Rachel Morgan, press secretary to cabinet, said Irvin-Ross has met with Dylan and his group two times.

"[Irvin-Ross] respects and admires the advocacy that they are doing and attends the group's events whenever possible. The minister is certainly open to meeting with the group again to hear their ideas for helping youth in care as they age out of care. It has been difficult to schedule times during the past few months that work for the minister's schedule and the groups, but their request has not been denied," Morgan's email said.

Dylan doesn't think his cause is on the NDP's priority list.

Cohen said he has met with the Progressive Conservatives and described the party as "super receptive" to extending care to CFS youth, and he said he will be meeting with Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari soon as well.

The NDP has already extended care from 18 to 21 and "are investigating extensions of care further as an option for youth aging out of care," said Morgan.

Cohen hopes to put youth in care on the election agenda for April 2016.

25not21 supporters demonstrate in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Friday. (CBC)