British Columbia

Ministry 'working hard' to increase support for youth aging out of care

Dozens of advocates and former foster children gathered in Victoria to ask the NDP government to help youth who are aging out of government care and facing an increasingly high cost of living with little support.

Minister of Children and Family Development says change could be included in next budget

The government will look at expanding post-secondary tuition waivers to trades schools according to Minister Katrine Conroy.

The province says its "working hard" to improve supports for youth aging out of government care, including increasing age limits for financial support and expanding its tuition waiver program.

Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy said her ministry is hoping to have legislative changes in time for the next provincial budget, which could come as early as February, 2018.

"We need to give more support to youth in care," Conroy said. "It's a commitment in my mandate letter."

Programs limited

Conroy said the government was looking at  "a lot of options," including expanding its post-secondary tuition waiver program to trades schools and increases in funding for youth after they leave care.

In B.C., youth "age out" of the foster care system at 19 years, which critics and advocates say leaves young adults vulnerable and at risk.

For those who qualify, financial support is available while enrolled in school, life skills training or rehabilitation programs through the Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) program.

AYA funding is granted for up to six months at a time with a maximum of 48 months of support for former youth in care between the ages of 19 and 26.

Youth who were voluntarily placed in care or were only temporarily wards of the state do not qualify for AYA.

"We're hoping that they will expand the policy to include people who've experienced voluntary care agreement statuses and temporary care statuses," said Ruby Barclay, a spokesperson with the advocacy group First Call B.C.

More likely to become homeless

Barclay said the NDP's earlier announcement the province would waive tuition to post secondary institutions for all youth who spent two or more years in government care was good news but should be expanded to include all former youth in care.

"We know that when people have access to education that they end up contributing more to the community and they end up having a chance to really change narratives," said Barclay.

Changes can't come soon enough, according to First Call B.C., which estimates youth who have been in foster care are 200 times more likely to become homeless than their peers who have not.

"Largely, people who age out of care are socially isolated and have a lack of resources that are available to them and also, a lack of support during that transitional phase of becoming a young adult in this world," said Barclay.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition and Megan Thomas