COLUMN: Youth in care need greater support

It is often said that the true measure of our society’s success is based on how we treat the most vulnerable.

Over the years, we have witnessed the tragic deaths of young people who did not receive adequate support under the provincial government’s program for children in care.

Last month, independent public inquiries were requested by the families of 15-year-old Nick Lang and 18-year-old Alex Gervais. Premier Christy Clark said a “review” would take place, but not an independent public inquiry, saying a review would be more expedient.

However, an independent inquiry might be more appropriate and ensure transparency and accountability.

Greater steps should have taken place years ago. The government has known about shortfalls in the system.

Children have been left unattended in hotels, they have struggled after reaching the age of 19 (when they are “aged out” of care), and have been victims of a system that was intended to help them.

The 2014 report, On Their Own: Examining the Needs of B.C. Youth as They Leave Government Care, by the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, makes multiple recommendations. It recommends the creation of a “minimum income support level as well as access to health, dental and vision care for all former youth in care until age 25.”

This would help ensure the well-being of and financial stability for youth.

It also recommends “on a case-by-case basis, the extension of foster care up to age 25 for youth who are in post-secondary school or training program.”

Extending the age limit will help youth in care transition and have access to much-needed resources. It will also empower them to pursue higher education and/or trades programs.

Other recommendations include the creation of a Youth Secretariat to help bring in new initiatives and work with other government ministries. The establishment of new legislation, modelled around the Children (Leaving Care) Act created in the United Kingdom, has also been suggested.

Inadequate support leads to numerous struggles for these young people. It is related to financial stability, mental health, education and many other aspects of life. A weak government response to these needs can lead to a cycle of poverty.

Carly Fraser committed suicide 20 hours and 35 minutes after she had turned 19. No child should have to choose between life and death. No youth should have to battle addiction or sleep on the sidewalk because proper safeguards were not implemented and financial commitments were not made.

Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister of Children and Family Development, said “it’s not true that they age out with no supports… there is actually a lot of support available as they make that transition. But we do know that there’s always more we could be doing.”

The government needs to take serious steps and follow these words with action.

It is often said that the true measure of our society’s success is based on how we treat the most vulnerable. This is a call to our B.C. representatives to take action.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree.

 

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