​Youth in care: government support should last until mid-20s

Dylan Cohen's looming 21st birthday fills him with worry. In a few months, the University of Winnipeg student will lose any special government support he receives as a youth in care.
University of Winnipeg student Dylan Cohen told CBC he'll be on his own after he turns 21 and graduates out of Manitoba's extension of care program for foster youths. (CBC)

Turning 21 is a milestone most young people celebrate, but the looming birthday fills Dylan Cohen with worry.

Cohen is a youth in care who receives support through Manitoba's extension of care program, but when he turns 21, he'll lose that help.

Cohen's living expenses are currently paid for by the province and he has access to social worker support, but that will end in a few months.
Dylan Cohen says his good academic record and work experience are advantages many other youth in care don't share. He entered the child welfare system at 13. (Supplied photo)

"If I go broke in five months from now and I have nowhere to stay, I'm literally going to stay in a homeless shelter," he said, "whereas every single one of my friends who has their parents in the city will be able to crash somewhere … or borrow a few hundred dollars." 

Other provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario, extend care to youth until their mid-twenties.

"The age of 25 is a very good alternative. I think it would be the bare minimum," Cohen said.

Cohen's story is a tale of success, despite the challenges he's faced.

"I had a very typical experience. I lived in several different foster homes, I was homeless for a period of time, went to several high schools and in the five years of my care, I struggled a lot, especially with mental health."

My journey was complex but at the same time very normal.- Dylan Cohen, youth in care, University of Winnipeg student

Thanks to support from social workers, his uncle and his friends growing up, Cohen made it to university. He's now studying conflict resolution at the University of Winnipeg. He hopes to pursue public interest law.

Not all foster youths are as "privileged" as Cohen, he said. He takes advantage of a tuition waiver program at the University of Winnipeg that covers course fees as well as tutoring if he needs it.

Most young adults who come through the foster system lack job experience and good grades, two things Cohen said will help him land on his feet next year.

"The vast majority of youth (in care) are entering the post-secondary experience or turning 18, their age of majority, without these skills," he said.

Cutting off supports too soon could prevent former foster children from accomplishing what other 20-somethings can do, he said.

"The government has taken children away in an effort to put them in more secure situations," Cohen said. "I think (Manitoba) really has an obligation to provide for youth in care."


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