Saskatchewan

Advocates ask province to support young people who 'age out' of care during pandemic

A group that advocates for Saskatchewan children in government care says the COVID-19 pandemic will add extra challenges for teens and young adults who are about to be too old to qualify for government assistance.

Finding jobs, housing major stressors for young people about to leave provincial care

The province says it's reviewing a request from Saskatchewan Youth in Care and Custody Network. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

A group that advocates for Saskatchewan children in government care says the COVID-19 pandemic will add extra challenges for teens and young adults who are about to be too old to qualify for government assistance.

Children in the care of social services can "age out" of supports at different ages, depending on their circumstances. Some lose them when they turn 18, others can continue receiving care until they turn 21.

Richard Rothenburger, outreach co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Youth In Care and Custody Network (SYICCN), wants all assistance to be kept in place until services return to pre-coronavirus levels, even if someone reaches their 22nd birthday.

"I talk to young people every day, and they truly are scared and anxious," Rothenburger said. "They need to know how to how to proceed during this uncertain time."

Rothenburger said children in care have the same fears all Canadians have right now: they don't want to get sick with COVID-19. On top of this, they worry about housing shortages, paying rent and not being able to find a job during economically-depressed times.

He said they're also worried they might not be able to access mental health supports in a timely manner while many services are disrupted.

"This is a demographic of our population that is falling through the cracks and need special attention," Rothenburger said.

Social Services reviewing group's request

The Ministry of Social Services provided a statement to CBC, saying it's reviewing the request from SYICCN.

"We are working hard to ensure that all children and youth in care, their caregivers and our community partners have the supports they need to stay safe during this time," wrote Joel Kilbride, executive director of Child and Family Services.

Rothenburger said the government works hard and young people in care often have solid transition plans in place for when they exit the system. But he wants the province to step in and ease some of their stresses.

"Nobody planned for a pandemic like this," he said empathetically. "These rock solid transition plans that are in place don't have concessions for this and that's why we're asking the government to really just dig in and find the gaps."

On Thursday, the Ontario government committed to putting a moratorium on youth aging out of provincial care until the pandemic passes.

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili applauded the move and called on Premier Scott Moe's government to follow suit.

"Let's also take this opportunity to have a look at how we work with people who are aging out," he said. "That's an especially vulnerable group of youth. How can we help them right now and even after the pandemic?" he said.

About the Author

Brian Rodgers is a videojournalist and producer with CBC Saskatchewan.