Foster care report in Ontario urges cutoff age rise to 25

The Ontario government is being urged to support foster children until they are 25 years old, four years older than the current cutoff.

The Ontario government is being urged to support foster children until they are 25 years old, four years older than the current cutoff.

Irwin Elman's report, entitled "25 is the new 21," says 21 is too young to have all emotional and financial support suddenly stop.

The 70-page report, released Thursday by the province's Advocate for Children and Youth, suggests raising the cutoff age would save the province money.

Irwin Elman, Ontario's advocate for children and youth, says the province will save money if it extends the age at which foster children are cut off from government support. (Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth)

Elman said it's one of the reasons he has found that wards of the state cost the government dearly after they leave care.

"We know that many in the system, after they leave, they cause the government to spend money on social assistance, on the youth justice system, the mental health system, shelters for the homeless," he said.

Ontario is the legal guardian of more than 8,300 wards in the child welfare system, each removed from the care of his or her parents because of abuse or neglect.

Once 18, the children can apply to continue to receive money and other social supports until 21 as long as they're in school or looking for a job. At 21, the support is cut off entirely.

The report, the first of its kind in Canada, said a cost-benefit analysis reveals that extending benefits from age 21 to 25 would save money.

"For every dollar spent, the state would save $1.36," Elman said.

The report comes as Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals wrestle with a $16-billion deficit.

Eric Hoskins, minister of children and youth services, was not available for an interview, his spokesman said. In a statement, he thanked Elman for his work.

"We know there's more work to do, and we know that Crown wards face unique challenges as they transition to adulthood.... I look forward to continuing our work together to improve the lives of young people in Ontario."

The statement does not say whether the government will consider the report's recommendations.