Kitchener-Waterloo·Special Report

Education, community support key to smooth transition for youth in care

Educational opportunities and community support are key when it comes to positive outcomes for youth in the child welfare system, according to the head of a local children's services organization.

Executive director of local child welfare agency says supports exist to help youth gain independence

Community approach needed when dealing child welfare, according to Family and Children's Services of the Waterloo Region. (Rafal Olechowski/Shutterstock)

Educational opportunities and community support are key when it comes to positive outcomes for youth in the child welfare system, according to the head of a local children's services organization.

"Child welfare needs to be a community response," said Karen Spencer, executive director of Family and Children's Services of Waterloo Region. "It takes a community to raise a child."

Spencer was responding to a national report released in early August by The Homeless Hub, which identified strong links between youth homelessness and Canada's child welfare system.

It found that over 60 per cent of homeless youth have at some point been involved with the child welfare system, nearly 200 times the ratio compared with the general population.

But Spencer pointed out that only about three per cent of the children and youth with a connection to the child welfare system in Waterloo region are living in with someone other than a parent, in what is commonly referred to as foster care. 

"So, of those kids that are homeless, some of those kids may be kids that we've had one contact with their family," she said.

Even so, Spencer said family and children's services has an important role to play in bridging the gap between care and independence for youth in the system.

"At family and children's services, we rely on the support of partners in children's mental health [and] in the developmental sector," she said.

The organization also has educational consultants and tutors available, to help youth excel at school, and scholarships for those who wish to go on to university or college.

This year the organization gave out 41 scholarships for the 2017-18 school year. Spencer says the foundation has given out 225 scholarships in the past five years.


SPECIAL REPORT: Homeless youth in Kitchener-Waterloo