Children in care need more support to succeed at school: B.C. youth representative

B.C.'s representative for children and youth says young people in government care need more support to succeed at school.

'Public education, at its essence, should help to level the playing field,' says Bernard Richard

B.C.'s representative for children and youth, Bernard Richard, says children in B.C. government care are not keeping up with peers academically. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

B.C.'s representative for children and youth is calling on the province to provide more supports to help young people in the foster care system succeed at school.

In his report Room for Improvement: Toward Better Education Outcomes for Children in Care, Bernard Richard compares the academic achievement of children and youth who are in B.C. government care with their peers.

In the report, he calls the discrepancy "startling."

For example, only 34 per cent of Grade 7 students in care met or exceeded expectations in numeracy in the 2014/15 school year. That figure stands at nearly 73 per cent for all other students in the same school year.

"Certainly most would agree with the vision that public education, at its essence, should help to level the playing field for children and youth," Richard said in the report.

"That has not been the general experience for children and youth who find themselves in the care of the British Columbia government."

Graduation rates were also much lower among youth in care.

Of those who began Grade 8 in the 2009/10 school year, only about 51 per cent graduated within six years, compared with an 89 per cent graduation rate for all other students in the province.

Richard found the disparities are even wider if a student in care is Indigenous or has special needs.

Specific funding for school districts

The report makes a number of recommendations to the Ministry of Education.

Most notably, Richard says specific funding should be allocated to each school district based on the number of children and youth in care.

He says that funding should be dedicated to supporting the learning of those students.

Other recommendations include the ministry being more accountable for monitoring and improving supports for children and youth in care.

Richard also calls on the ministry to "place a specific focus on outcomes and supports for Indigenous children in care, a group that is vastly over-represented in B.C.'s child welfare system."

Achievement gaps 'unacceptable'

Education Minister Rob Fleming said he accepted Bernard's recommendations and that his ministry was having ongoing conversations with school superintendents to allocate resources to vulnerable youth and children in care.

The B.C. government said in its budget update last month that an extra $681 million over three years would be added to public education.

The achievement gaps between children in care and those who are not are "unacceptable," Fleming said.

"We should be striving for a lot more. We should be striving for parity in terms of the graduation rate."

One of the first moves of the minority New Democrat government last August was to eliminate tuition fees at post-secondary institutions for students who were in government care.

However, Richard said that won't make a difference if kids in care don't have the resources they need to get through high school.

With files from the Canadian Press