Dozens of youth who have been in government care met with legislators Tuesday and held a rally to call for better services and policy for children who age out of the system.
“This is an unprecedented day for youth in care, to be able to speak to those in government directly and so many at one time,” said Dylan Cohen, 22, a former youth in care and organizer with First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.
“We had more than 70 youth and advocates, from as young as 14 to people in their 50s,” he said. They shared personal stories and concerns and delivered policy recommendations to 41 government officials in attendance, including Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy and Premier John Horgan.
The recommendations state that youth aging out of foster care should be able to count on three things until their 26th birthdays: consistent financial support (housing, transit and food), long-term relationships with dependable adults, and a chance to connect and contribute to their communities.
“We need a number to call. Kids I know who are not in care can call their parents, they have a network,” said Cohen, who later addressed a crowd from the legislature steps.
“I’ve struggled to be heard but today I feel heard,” he said. Other policy tweaks include increasing youth agreement funding to $1,375 a month and improving access regardless of care status. While the provincial government’s waiver of tuition for former youth in care was lauded as a great step, Cohen said there shouldn’t be an age limit, course load requirement or minimum length in care to be eligible.
“That’s not realistic for many people’s situations,” he said.
When youths age out at 19, most lose their financial and social supports. First Call says the youths are over-represented in homelessness, poverty and the mental health and justice systems. Aboriginal children are also over-represented in care.
Conroy told the rally crowd that the government is listening to the solutions provided by youths. She said as a parent of four children and grandparent to nine, she empathized with what the youths and their advocates are asking for.
“When my kids turned 19, I didn’t say … see you later,” Conroy said. “As a government, we are the parents of kids in care and can’t do that either. We have to show we can be good parents and that’s what I’m committed to doing.”
Shae-Lynn Noskye, 21, came from New Westminster to attend the gathering. She is a former foster kid who is now president of the youth advisory at Aunt Leah’s Place, an organization that works to help children in care from becoming homeless and mothers from losing custody of their children.
“I was in foster care for a few months when I was seven and then from 14 to 19,” she said. “There were quite a lot of social workers and it was really hard to feel connected to anyone or build a relationship.”
Noskye said she wants to see better transition plans for young people aging out of care, especially when it comes to supporting mental health needs.