British Columbia

Improving foster care in B.C. starts with relationships, advocates say

Advocates say the key to improving B.C.'s foster care system is focusing on creating stability and meaningful long-term relationships.

B.C. foster care system back in the spotlight after damning report from children's advocate

Ashley Crossan and Kris Archie from the advocacy group Fostering Change say that emphasizing long-term relationships and community is one way of making the provincial care system better. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Advocates in Vancouver say the way to help teens aging out of the foster care system is to make sure they have long-lasting relationships and connection to their community.

The B.C. foster care system is back in the spotlight after the provincial children's advocate released a report Monday about Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who took his own life while in care.

The report said Gervais was put in 17 different placements with 23 different social workers, and said the Ministry of Children and Family Development made no effort to place him with family members.

Kris Archie is the senior manager of Fostering Change, a Vancouver Foundation initiative to increase support for young people aging out of care.

Archie said kids in foster care are surrounded by people who are primarily paid to be around them and may not have deep connections to their family, culture and community.

While Gervais died while in the province's care, Archie said she's particularly concerned for the lack of support for teens aging out or close to aging out of the system.

"If they're exiting foster care without a connection to their community, we'll see the outcomes that we saw with Alex Gervais and other young people who have passed away," Archie said. 

"No amount of money without caring relationships and community is going to save lives," she said.

Ashley Crossan is a member of the organization's Youth Advisory Council, made up of youth who have direct experience with the foster care system.

"I see young people exiting care without permanent, stable, loving relationships with others," she said. "Like they don't have a chance to go to adults for advice."

Raising age of foster care not the answer

The B.C. government has responded to criticism around aging youth by expanding its program to provide financial help for those who have aged out of the provincial care system.

While Archie said the Ministry does have a responsibility to support young people financially past 19, she said simply raising the age of foster care to 25 isn't enough.

"If we just extend foster care all the way to age 25, we'll still see the issue of young people having difficulty transitioning to their early adult years," Archie said.

She said there has to be significant changes to how younger children are treated in foster care to truly make a difference — including more stable placements, better community connection, and the opportunity to develop family connections.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Improving foster care starts with relationships, advocates say