YOUTH VOICE: Youth in care need support

Our youth deserve a system that helps them and puts their interests first, writes columnist Japreet Lehal.

In past months and years, we have sadly 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, which she said would be more expedient.

An independent inquiry, however, 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 and have been victims of a system intended to help them.

Our youth deserve a system that helps them and puts their interests first.

The 2014 report, On Their Own: Examining the Needs of B.C. Youth as They Leave Government Care, by the BC 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 and financial stability for the 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 or trades programs.

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

A weak government response to youth needs can lead to a cycle of poverty.

No child should have to choose between life and death.

Carly Fraser committed suicide 20 hours and 35 minutes after she had turned 19 and ‘aged out’.

Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister of Children and Family Development, has said it’s not true youth ‘age’ out with no supports but notes “there’s always more we could be doing.”

The government has implemented some new initiatives, and Cadieux has said 200 additional social workers would be hired by January 2016. This is a step in the right direction, but it does not fully address the need.

Employees have been hired, but many social workers have left, resulting in a relatively small number of additions.

A report released last month by the Representative for Children and Youth urges, amongst other recommendations, that more financial resources be dedicated to hiring social workers.

The so-called budgetary constraints that are cited by the government when pressed to tackle the problems in the system are not accurate or justified. In fact, earlier this year, the government announced a budget surplus in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is often said that the true measure of our society’s success is based on how we treat the most vulnerable. The children, who are the future of our province and country, deserve better support.

This is a call and request to our provincial representatives to take action.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree. He writes monthly for the Peace Arch News.

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