Manitoba

Advocates call to extend support for Manitoba youth in foster care beyond an age cut-off

In Manitoba, youth aging out of care are required to live on their own when they turn 18. But advocates say that's a harmful cut-off that puts young people at risk of addictions, unemployment and homelessness.

New report by Child Welfare League of Canada says youth should be assessed on an individual basis

Troy Bird now works at a boutique in Winnipeg to pay rent. He spent his childhood in foster care and says young people like him need ongoing support from child and family services. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

It's been four years since Troy Bird aged out of foster care, but the 25-year-old says he still needs help. That's why he's supporting a national call for provinces to provide services for youth in welfare beyond their age of majority. 

"Some youth, they might need support their whole lives and I'm one of them. They set me up with a program at least, before I aged out," he said. 

Since aging out, Bird took part in Life's Journey, a program that supports people living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. He's been making ends meet through assisted living and working at a boutique shop.

"I feel like Manitoba should drop the age limit, absolutely," said Bird.

He was able to get into the Life's Journey program by advocating for himself, but that's not possible for many of his former peers, he said. 

In Manitoba, youth aging out of care are required to live on their own when they turn 18 (the age of majority). In some cases, they can get extended services and financial support up until they're 21 — which is when Bird stopped getting help from the department of child and family services.

Having to move out of his foster home with nowhere to go was so stressful and scary for Bird that it led to self-harm. 

When he was 21, he was forced to look for a job and temporarily stayed at Red Road Lodge, a transitional housing block for people who are homeless and recovering from addictions and mental health issues. 

Services should extend beyond cut-off: report 

On Monday, the Child Welfare League of Canada released a report outlining recommendations for provinces and territories to establish more equitable standards for youth in care.

Melanie Doucet, senior researcher and project manager of the report, says services for young people with state guardianship end when they reach the age of majority. 

That can include receiving child protection, being able to stay in a foster home, continuing therapy and receiving certain health coverage, she said. 

Senior researcher Melanie Doucet says provinces should implement a 'readiness approach' and see whether each youth is ready to transition into adulthood, instead of having an age cut-off. (Melanie Doucet/Twitter)

Doucet, who also has a doctor of philosophy in social work, said an age-based cut-off for services doesn't work for every young person. She said provinces should implement a readiness-based approach instead.

"If you're basing it on readiness, then it's very individualized and it's targeted to the needs of each youth. So they can leave [the system] at different times based on when they're ready," Doucet said. 

She says this will provide a more equitable way for youth transitioning out. 

"That's kind of how it works for young people in the general population, right? They don't get thrown out the door at 18 or 19 and the parents are like, 'I've done my job now, you're totally on your own and don't call me, don't ask me for money and ask me for advice.'" 

Putting youth at risk

Marie Christian, director of Voices: Manitoba's Youth in Care Network, says when young people are forced to age out of the system they face many barriers. 

Being able to find safe and affordable housing, paying rent, completing high school, getting a job and finding meaningful connections are just some of the challenges, she said.

Marie Christian is director of Voices: Manitoba's Youth in Care Network. She wants the province to establish universal standards for youth transitioning out of foster care. (Darin Morash/CBC)

"All of these things need to somehow magically come together before a young person transitions from care and for many young people, that's just not a reality," said Christian.

She said forcing a youth out of a system too quickly can expose them to dangerous risks. 

"When a young person is not completely resourced before they transition from care, we're really leaving them at risk for homelessness, mental health struggles, addictions and really just insecurity that could last well into their adulthood," she said.

Call for universal standards 

Christian also wants the province to establish universal standards for youth transitioning out of foster care — a recommendation that's been outlined in the report. 

"Right now, the only consistent thing is that young people in Manitoba should be spoken to at age 15 about their options for 18 and afterwards but there's no criteria," said Christian. 

"There's no real checklist that agencies and workers need to follow so that every young person is given the same information," she said. 

Doucet said from now until March, she will be meeting with provincial ministers and social workers to evaluate where they're at and how they'll be able to meet those standards.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Manitoba's department of families says it's reviewing the report. 

"The province is committed to developing new pathways to success for youth exiting care and to promoting successful outcomes for youth by improving and/or aligning policies, programs and resources," the spokesperson said. 

As a part of pandemic recovery efforts, Manitoba also extended support services for youth who would've otherwise transitioned out of care until March 2022. 

WATCH | Troy Bird talks about aging out of care:

Manitoba youth aging out of care

9 months ago
Duration 2:26
In Manitoba, youth aging out of care are required to live on their own when they turn 18. But advocates say that's a harmful cut-off that puts young people at risk of addictions, unemployment and homelessness.

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