Kitchener-Waterloo·Special Report

Youths at Kitchener shelter think system 'too rigid' to help them advance

Youth with ties to Canada's child welfare system say 'aging out' out of the support system aimed at children is just one of the challenges facing homeless young people trying to break out of the social care cycle.

"You can't put rules, rules, rules, when everyone is different"

A recent national study found that youth homelessness had a strong link with having had previous contact with child welfare services when younger. (The Gathering Place / Facebook)

Youth with ties to Canada's child welfare system say 'aging out' out of the support system aimed at children is just one of the challenges facing homeless young people trying to break out of the social care cycle.

"Right now, I feel like I'm doing fine, because I'm still technically a kid," said a 16-year-old youth staying at oneROOF, a Kitchener, Ont. agency for young people facing homelessness. 

"Hopefully I'm going to be able to get my job as a CAS worker when I'm older, but if I don't, it's like, I guess I'm going to have to do what I have to do to stay alive."

Troubling connection revealed

A national report released earlier this month 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 copared with the general population. 

In many cases, these young people simply outgrow the children's services that they were entitled to when younger, leaving them without a place to live. In other cases, the young person makes a choice to leave the system after adolescence — or sometimes during.

Youth at oneROOF say staff at group homes and shelters need to do more to support the individual needs of the children in care. (David Horemans/CBC)

"I had foster parents," said a young man staying at oneROOF, "but when I was 12, I said, 'Screw it! I would much rather live on the street where I know I'm at a stable house, rather than go from house to house to house."

"It gives me more freedom, and when I have more freedom it enables me to calm down more and think about what I want to do."

But he admits that even at oneROOF there are rules he is expected to follow and that can be difficult "when you are a kid in a misunderstood world."

System too rigid, youth say

The 16-year-old youth at oneROOF, who cannot be named because of her connection to the child welfare system, said staff at group homes and shelters need to do more to support the individual needs of the children in care.

"No one's the exact same," she said. "You can't put rules, rules, rules, when everyone is different. What happens if someone has ADHD and can't sit down in a chair for that long?"

The young man, whose identity is also protected, added that even simple things like aiding with transportation to job interviews or apartment viewings would also helpful. But giving bus tickets to young people is not the best idea.

"There's a lot of individuals here that live with drug problems. They give them the bus ticket and they think it's just for a ride to go to buddies to get high," he said.

"They skip out on what they need to do and sometimes that can even lead to incarceration."  

He said most young people want to do good, they just "don't do good without realizing it."


SPECIAL REPORT: Homeless youth in Kitchener-Waterloo

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