North

Foster care youth need help stepping into adulthood, say youth workers

N.W.T. foster parents and youth workers support a proposal to raise the age of automatic foster care support from 19 to 23, but they say that's just the beginning of what needs to happen to help foster kids make the transition to adulthood.

A proposal to raise the age when foster care ends is drawing support, and calls for more

Two months ago, one of Muriel Bestina's foster children turned 19. Under the current rules, that means he no longer automatically qualifies for extra support. 'They will sponsor him everything when I was with him,' Betsina says. 'But in the last two months, I haven't seen a thing.' (CBC)

Foster parents and youth workers in Yellowknife support the government's proposal to raise the age of automatic foster care support from 19 to 23, but they say that's just the beginning of what needs to happen to help foster kids make the transition to adulthood.

Muriel Betsina has been a foster parent for more than 10 years. Two months ago, one of her three foster children turned 19. Under the current rules, that means he no longer automatically qualifies for extra support. That includes money for food, clothing, housing and even programming.

"They will sponsor him everything when I was with him," Betsina says. "But in the last two months, I haven't seen a thing."

The N.W.T. is currently reviewing its Child and Family Services Act, and considering raising the age to 23 — the norm in many provinces.

Betsina says she's not about to push her son out the door, but she can't afford to support him in everything without help, and that's putting stress on her family.

"He feels guilty," she says of her son. "I never says a thing to him, but he feels guilty, I should be paying room and board."

40% of people in their twenties still at home

'Unfortunately a lot of these kids are just on their own,' says Tammy Roberts. (CBC)
Tammy Roberts, director of the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories, agrees the current rules are too hard on young people, noting that it's common for young people to leave home for the last time at age 27.

Statistics Canada says 40 per cent of young people in their twenties still live at their parents' home.

Roberts says the transition to adulthood can be an even greater challenge for children in foster care, who have experienced traumas or are grieving. "Of course their development is going to be delayed a little because of that.

"Unfortunately a lot of these kids are just on their own, and some have the skills they need to persevere and move forward with their life, and a lot don't. Those are the kids we see out on the street and really not having any place to go."

Basic life skills needed

Iris Hamlyn, who runs the Side Door Youth Shelter in Yellowknife, also supports the change, but says it must be accompanied by strong programming.

Iris Hamlyn says 'if no other supports are provided to the youth at 23, they'll be in the same situation they would've been in at 19.' (CBC)
"It's great from a financial perspective, but if no other supports are provided to the youth at 23, they'll be in the same situation they would've been in at 19."

Hamlyn says she sees young people who "age out" of foster care lacking even the most basic life skills, like setting up a bank account or getting a social insurance number.

Andy Langford, executive director of social programs for the Department of Health and Social Services, says his department is looking at improving supports to youth in care under its five-year strategic plan, but says that's not included in the current act or the proposed changes to it. 

It could be about a year before changes to the act are place. 

In the meantime, Langford says social workers do work with children on transition plans, but that support varies depending on the needs of the young person.

With files from Kate Kyle

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