Source: Lawson Hunter, Oakville News, February 27, 2023
The Ontario government recently introduced changes to the way youth transition out of the child welfare system. “Children and youth in the child welfare system face additional barriers throughout their lives,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
Currently, those under the guidance of Children’s Aid Societies across the province are expected to leave the system once they turn 21. Without adequate support in place, those leaving the system are more likely to experience a range of negative outcomes such as homelessness, mental health concerns, unemployment, limited education and involvement with the justice system.
As of April 1, the transition program, called ‘Ready, Set, Go’, will receive a boost of $68 million to extend the transition period to those 23 years of age, provide life skills programs, and supports for post-secondary education.
During the COVID pandemic, a moratorium on those transitioning from the system was in effect due to the additional difficulties everyone had in finding employment, housing, and other supports. While providing a bit of a safety net for transitioning youth, this has created a backlog in the system.
Some 12,000 children and youth are in the care of children’s aid societies in Ontario. The Halton Children’s Aid Society (CAS), covering Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton, has over 60 children in the program, with 22 set to transition into the general population within the next 12 months.
Janice Robinson, Executive Director of the Halton CAS, explained, “Because there are all kinds of ruptured relationships that require removal (of children) from their families when they transition (out of the system), they don’t have a significant person to turn to (for support). We offer programs so that they can practice social skills, be responsible, help them develop relationships, be a good employee, and be a good partner. Some of those things they need help learning.”
The Ready, Set, Go program helps children plan for the future. Starting at age 13, they will begin learning practical life skills and planning education goals. At age 15, the emphasis moves on to learning financial literacy and preparing for the workforce. By the time the child reaches 18 and up, they may begin to transition from the care of foster parents. That requires financial support from the province’s welfare program.
Funding for individuals will increase from $850 per month on a sliding scale up to $1800 depending on age. Youth will also be able to work up to 40 hours per week at minimum wage without affecting their financial support.
“It’s difficult for anyone to live on $900 or so a month given rent, food or school expenses,” said Robinson. “When we talk to youth about their stipend, they tell us that it was absolutely life-saving. It might sound like a lot, but it’s an amount that gives them some psychological security.”
The Ready, Set, Go program was developed with extensive consultation with CASs, child welfare advocates, and youth in the care system.
“The message from those in youth in care was that they want to be seen as assets,” said Robinson. “They don’t want to be seen as dependants on the Ministry. They will pay back the support they get by having productive lives. I think that’s a key piece of this policy.”
The Halton CAS offers a number of programs and services for children and youth in its system. Halton CAS also welcomes interested members of the community to volunteer with mentorship-type programs above and beyond the traditional foster care program. For more info, visit https://haltoncas.ca.