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Developments in the field of Child and Youth Care

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Navigating school without parents, former B.C. foster kids get help from government

Although former foster kids don't have to pay tuition to attend university or college, it is still expensive to pay rent and buy books. Now they'll get a bit more help.

Youth who age out of government care often struggle to complete education or find jobs because of a lack of family support, but three provincial announcements this week may make the difficult transition into adulthood a little easier.

On Monday, the tuition-waiver program – which allows former youth in care to attend college or university without paying tuition – was expanded to include construction trades training.

“Youth in care deserve every opportunity to pursue their dreams, and government has a responsibility to help them reach their goals,” Children and Families Minister Katrine Conroy said in a statement. “Not all youth are ready or interested in a college or university degree. I got my start as a power engineer, and I understand the importance of expanding our tuition waiver program to include trades training.”

Former children’s representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond started the tuition waiver program in 2013, eventually convincing a dozen universities and colleges to waive their fees for youth aging out of care. Statistics show these youth struggle with poverty, unemployment, poor health and homelessness more frequently than their peers from traditional families.

In September, the then-new NDP government announced government would pay for all 25 post-secondary schools in B.C. to offer free tuition to former foster kids up to age 26. The number of youth taking advantage of free schooling jumped, from 189 in 2016/17 to 355 this school year.

On Friday, the government pledged $250,000 to the Youth Futures Education Fund, which provides former foster kids with some cash to cover books, rent and other living expenses while at school.

“Students often turn to family for support with living expenses while they pursue their dreams and post-secondary education. But former youth in care rarely have that option,” Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark said.

The fund, which is overseen by a volunteer board and held at the Vancouver Foundation, has raised $2 million, including from government, philanthropic donors and corporations such as Coast Capital. About half the fund has been given way so far to 283 students, with an average disbursement of $2,670 per youth.

Fund chair John Greschner hopes more companies and individuals will donate, as the need increases as more youth participate in the tuition waiver program. “Youth who receive the support they need as they transition out of care become adults who are better equipped to support themselves and contribute to their communities,” he added.

Emily Goncalves received help from the fund after leaving care. “Being able to receive an education has completely changed my life,” she said Friday.

The Province has so far reimbursed $1.8 million to post-secondary institutions, and has committed $6 million to the tuition waiver program over the next three years.

Also this week, the government committed $100,000 to help youth leaving care learn how to drive, a program that was started last year. The ministry has donated some vehicles, so the youth can practice for their road test.

“We want to be sure that young people who have been in care gain the kind of skills many parents see as necessary for their children,” Conroy said.

By Lori Cuthbert

8 June 2018 


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