The past few years have brought much greater public awareness of what youth in foster care face at 19 as they age out of the system, and what adequate funding and community support can do to prevent sudden homelessness—or worse—at that critical life transition.
A growing body of local research guides this understanding, driven in part by the Vancouver Foundation’s Fostering Change initiative, and their discovery last year that the annual $268 million cost of adverse outcomes arising from inadequate transition supports for BC youth aging out of care could be offset with a smarter, preventative investment of only $57 million, targeted specifically to improve outcomes.
This followed earlier Fostering Change research that found, across BC, 92% of parents now provide financial support and/or housing to their own children as late as age 28, and that 71% of British Columbians agree with giving dependable financial support to youth who age out of foster care through to age 25.
Indeed, Trevor Linden brought it home early last year at First Call’s annual gala. Sharing the stage with three powerful young women in and from foster care, he admitted he could not have imagined being “turned loose” at such a young age, a point underscored by the apprehension he saw on his mother’s face as he packed to move to Vancouver at age 18.
For us, this is not news. Nor were many of us likely shocked this summer when Canada’s first youth homeless count uncovered that 58% of Canada’s homeless youth report some involvement with the child welfare system at some point in their lives. Hard data now proves this youth population experiences homelessness at a rate nearly 200 times higher than their peers with no child welfare involvement.
Data like this is what First Call gathers and uses in our policy advocacy work. With that in hand, this fall a group of similarly empowered youth in and from foster care will lead us and other adult allies to the BC Legislature in Victoria for a day of meetings with ministerial staff and government decision-makers.
We and our partners in this advocacy want to cut the link between foster care and youth homelessness. Just as First Call approaches our advocacy on child poverty, we will be tireless in pushing for policy changes and greater investments until we see better supports and more positive outcomes for youth who have been in our collective care.
Poverty is one of the most important social determinants of health and the reason we continue to publish our annual BC Child Poverty Report Card. Given the evidence of the importance of early childhood development, we also continue to call for urgently-needed increased investments in early years supports and services for young children and their families.
Other long-term First Call advocacy campaigns include our efforts to improve child labour protections in BC and to honour children’s right to be free from violence through amending the Canadian Criminal Code to remove the ‘spanking’ defence. As governments change, windows of opportunity open, and we are hoping to see progress on both of these issues in the near future.
Just as there are eyes and ears who report on such important systemic issues, in community and in government, we all have a role to play to safeguard the rights and interests of our future generations—whether through a union, a professional association, internal reporting systems within government ministries, through the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, through the media or through our elected representatives.
First Call bases its advocacy work in our rights and duties as citizens, which in addition to bringing concerns to our elected representatives, also includes public education and community mobilization. Depending on the circumstance, advocacy can take many forms and success usually requires multiple avenues combined with courage and persistence.
Last year we launched As Word Spreads, a podcast hosted by youth in and from government care. Through this platform, the youth we work with not only amplify their often marginalized voices, but also draw attention to common concerns of many youth, with a growing focus on ways they’d like to see BC’s foster care system change to benefit the next generation of youth in care.
First Call’s involvement with the Fostering Change initiative has grown as that project has evolved. Similar to the bi-annual provincial youth forums hosted by the First Call coalition in years past, this fall will see youth from care coming together to evaluate research data and the policies that form the system that in turn governs their lives, in preparation for the planned meetings with policy-makers.
Growing more confident each day in their role as citizens, the youth First Call works with have begun to arrange meetings with some MLAs to discuss the state of foster care, networking and coordinating between the youth advisory councils that are attached to many organizations and different levels of government around BC.
We have seen the value of advocacy—throughout Metro Vancouver, deep into the Fraser Valley, and around BC—in a well-resourced campaign such as the one now supported by the Vancouver Foundation, in which First Call is but one partner.
We’ve seen public awareness campaigns shift public opinion and government begin to respond with policy changes. Already we anticipate the potential that will soon be set not loose, but free when post-secondary tuition is waived for all youth aging out of foster care, and the greater return for our society that comes with it.
As the role each of us plays in this work continues to evolve and awareness spreads, it’s hard not to be excited when imagining what we’ll achieve together next.
This article was published in the Autumn 2017 issue of the BC Association of Social Workers’ Perspectives magazine.