Edmonton

Province won't cut benefits for young adults formerly in government care

The province has affirmed plans to continue funding hundreds of young adults formerly in government care.

'We want to make sure that no young adult is left without supports at a difficult time'

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz, seen in this file photo, confirmed Wednesday that program participants will not be cut off this year. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

The province has affirmed plans to continue funding hundreds of young adults formerly in government care.

On Thursday, Minister of Children's Services Rebecca Schultz confirmed that participants in the Support and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAA) between the ages of 22 and 24 will continue to receive benefits this year.

"Only because we want to make sure that no young adult is left without supports at a difficult time — we are in the middle of a pandemic," Schultz said on Thursday during a review of her ministry's budget estimates.

"It's making sure that caseworkers have the time that they need to work with these young adults to transition them to not only adult support services or into independence, but to make sure that they have the networks that they need to be successful in those placements." 

The reprieve comes after the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Alberta government in January. The ruling overturned a lower court decision to grant an injunction that prevented changes to the SFAA program until a constitutional challenge from one of the participants could be heard.

The injunction was granted in March 2020, just as changes were about to kick in that would have reduced the age eligibility from 18 to 24 years of age to 18 to 22.

The change amounted to a $14.3 million reduction in the program's budget, but in response to questions from NDP Children's Services critic Rakhi Pancholi on Thursday, Schultz confirmed that the money has been reinstated.

Pancholi said the reversal should be permanent to support those in need.

"They've been clear that cutting these supports would cause significant trauma, and they've already led lives filled with trauma," Pancholi said. 

"I'm glad the minister has done the right thing to support these young adults this year. I'm now asking her to do the right thing for the years to come as this issue is not going away."

In a statement to CBC, Becca Polak, press secretary to Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz, said the government's plans have not changed.

"Over the past couple of months, Minister Schulz has repeatedly confirmed that young adults will not be removed from SFAA in the near future due to the pandemic and uncertainty in the economy," Polak wrote, pointing to comments from the minister on social media in February and a month earlier, after the Court of Appeal decision.

"Caseworkers will continue to work with these young adults to make sure that they have the right supports in place and are connected to the right services to provide ongoing social and emotional supports and guidance until they achieve independence."

Legal fight continues

Despite the government's reversal, the young single mother behind the legal challenge is continuing her fight. 

The woman, who turned 22 in August, says that the abrupt change would force her to abandon her six-year educational plan to become employable and return to sex work, which could result in the apprehension of her daughter.

On Thursday, A.C.'s lawyer said they are preparing a submission for the Supreme Court of Canada to reconsider the injunction dismissal by the Court of Appeal.
Lawyer Avnish Nanda says his client A.C. will ask the Supreme Court of Canada to reverse the injunction dismissal. (Peter Evans/CBC)

In the interim, the Court of Appeal will also hear their application next month asking for participants to continue to receive benefits until the Supreme Court of Canada decides whether to hear their appeal.

"I think it's remarkable that A.C., given her circumstances, has managed to make this government blink and walk back a portion of it's proposed cut to the SFAA program," said A.C.'s lawyer Avnish Nanda.

"It's great news, but it has to be extended even further. This government should follow the approach of its predecessors and experts in the field who have all found that these supports are necessary for youth from marginalized background to live healthy and sustainable lives as adults."

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