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CANADA

More educational support needed from government for kids leaving foster care

This Family Day, Feb. 12, those of us in the youth-from-care community ask for our family to listen. Our only parental figures are the ministry staff, youth workers and foster parents who come in and out of our lives. Youth in and from care are a collective provincial responsibility.

Today, we want to go to school.

We know what it’s like to go through a system where the government is our parents. We thrive when we have support.

In September, our caregivers stepped forward with us. As youth in government care become independent, we want to attend university. The new B.C. government created a new policy to waive tuition fees for youth in and from care. Our community of youth applauded the decision. Tears were shed and we called it a win. In fact, youth from care enrolment with tuition waivers is up 20 per cent.

Weeks after the announcement, dozens of young people from care and many more allies rallied and met with the governmental officials responsible for these policies. We put forward a series of recommendations rooted in lived-experience and youth voices. And we were heard.

The premier, MLAs and many others listened to us call for an improvement to the tuition waiver policy. It’s a sign that our province is moving toward change.

But we can have better policy.

The current policy requires students to be in care for at least 24 months and under age 27. If we’re trying to see more grads from government care, we need to do more.

Coming into care, even for a moment, can be traumatic. One year in the system can mean multiple placements, many workers, court and other systems that might disconnect you from permanency. Care is unique for everyone and 18-month experiences can be full of more instability than 10 years in one foster home.

In fact, the time-in-care eligibility restriction is a retreat from prior programs run by some post-secondary institutions. The University of B.C., for example, only required one year in government care to qualify. These programs, while still missing crucial pieces from the new policy, often resulted in more youth being eligible. We’ve heard from staff at post-secondary institutions that only half of their students formerly on the waivers are eligible for the new program.

This policy has created unique eligibility restrictions that aren’t present for other programs.

We also know that our journeys to post-secondary happen a lot later than most of our peers not from care, where the new policy misses the mark. One 2017 report indicates that less than 49 per cent of youth with continuing care orders have their high-school diploma within six years of leaving care. Yet this new tuition waiver policy does not address the multitudes of youth who need a bit more time. In September, some advocates with us were ready for school in their 30s and later.

It’s important to note that B.C. is standing alone on these eligibility restrictions. Manitoba’s bursary program is available without an age cap. The same is true for Alberta and Ontario.

Good practices are in place in some B.C. institutions. Vancouver Island University has some of the most comprehensive programming available for youth aging out of foster care, supporting living expenses and housing for their program participants.

The new support – tuition and fees to attend school – is bringing us to level with our peers. A 2016 survey by the Vancouver Foundation found that 92 per cent of B.C. parents of 19- to 28-year-olds provided them with a range of financial and other supports.

The tuition waiver program is a step forward. But we know that vulnerable, capable youth aren’t applying because of the new age and time-in-care eligibility requirements.

We ask the public to hold MLAs accountable for supporting us to succeed the same way others do. Our family can help us thrive.

By Dylan Cohen

7 February 2018

Dylan Cohen is a former youth in care and youth organizer with First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. 

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