'Cruel' measure reduces support for young Albertans transitioning out of gov't care

The Alberta government’s decision to roll back the cutoff age for a program to help young adults transition out of the child intervention system was called cruel and shameful by critics on Monday. 

Eligibility for program will end at age 22, instead of the current 24

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said the changes to Support and Financial Assistance Agreement program were made because many recipients drop out of the program by age 22. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

The Alberta government's decision to roll back the cutoff age for a program to help young adults who are transitioning out of the child intervention system was called cruel and shameful by critics on Monday. 

"This decision is unconscionable. It is immoral. It is shameful," NDP Children's Services critic Rakhi Pancholi said during a news conference in Edmonton. 

During a review of ministry estimates on Thursday, Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz revealed that post-intervention supports will end at age 22 for young adults. Currently, the Support and Financial Assistance Agreements are available to young adults between 18 and 24.

The move, which goes into effect on April 1, 2020, will affect 480 young adults. 

Schulz said the change is "not necessarily about money." 

She said the ministry discovered people tended to leave the program by 22 anyway, so the government wants to transition them to other programs.

Those programs include income support, child-care subsidies, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) payments and Advancing Futures bursaries, which provide financial help to post-secondary students who grew up in the child intervention system. 

Schulz says caseworkers will help move SFAA recipients to the appropriate programs. 

Shyannah Sinclair, 21, wants to attend the University of Alberta next year but worries how the change in the Support and Financial Assistance Agreement program will affect her plans. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC )

NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the change "cruel and heartless" in Monday's question period and said UCP members should be ashamed of themselves for hurting young people who may have gone through traumatic situations. 

But Schulz fired back with a suggestion that the NDP was to blame. 

"Once again, the members opposite chose to take to Twitter to play politics and increase fear and uncertainty among Albertans while sharing only a small portion of the facts," Schulz said. 

'I don't feel ready'

Shyannah Sinclair said she was upset and shaken when her caseworker told her about the eligibility change on Thursday night. 

Sinclair, 21, is taking upgrading courses at Norquest College in Edmonton and hopes to attend the University of Alberta. 

The mother of a four-year-old planned to finish university and start supporting herself by the time she was out of the SFAA program.

Now she is wondering what she will do after her benefits run out in August. 

"My first initial thought was just, how?" she said at an NDP news conference. "Because I always thought I had until I was 24 and I was comfortable with that because I don't feel ready right now. "

Wallis Kendal, co-founder of the iHuman Youth Society in Edmonton, said the government is cutting a program that helped young people stay out of the corrections system and gave them hope for their futures. 

"I'm shocked and appalled by a government that has not got the sensibilities to understand what they are doing," Kendal said.

The NDP opposition tried to force an emergency debate on Monday afternoon on the changes to the SFAA program. However, Speaker Nathan Cooper ruled that that issue, while important, lacked the urgency required for an emergency debate.