Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the issues faced by young people exiting foster care when they reach the age of majority. I’d like to acknowledge the work of the Child Welfare League of Canada, who are advocates for systemic change, always centring the voices of people with lived experience.

Young people are typically afforded a soft launch into independence based on readiness, often with financial assistance, emotional support and help developing life skills from family. Young people in foster care are expected to live independently based on age, not readiness.

Currently, post-care services are inconsistent across jurisdictions in Canada, and the federal government and Quebec offer no services when young people reach the age of majority. This abrupt transition can result in homelessness, unemployment, poverty, poor mental health and early parenthood.

Many people who age out are at risk of falling into the criminal justice system, known as the “foster care to prison” pipeline. These outcomes could be prevented by changing the age-based cut-offs and ensuring access to more resources, such as safe housing and culturally responsive mental health services.

Indigenous and Black youth face particular barriers due to the legacy of colonial violence and intergenerational trauma. Black youth experience the impact of slavery through anti-Black racism in child welfare. Indigenous youth live with the legacy of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

Advocates are looking for more equitable care and will hold the government accountable for the 2021 budget promises to invest in post-care services for First Nations children.

Honourable colleagues, vulnerable young people need more support to bridge them into adulthood. In the words of the National Council of Youth in Care Advocates, all young people deserve to be supported through the transition into independence. Thank you. Asante.

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