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Vancouver Foundation survey finds most British Columbians want youth in foster care supported to age 21

October 9, 2013

The majority of British Columbians want to extend the age of government support to youth in foster care from 19 to at least age 21, a new province-wide survey conducted by Vancouver Foundation has found.

Vancouver, BC − The majority of British Columbians want to extend the age of government support to youth in foster care from 19 to at least age 21, a new province-wide survey conducted by Vancouver Foundation has found.

There’s a strong link between being in foster care and becoming homeless. Former youth in government care are grossly overrepresented within the ranks of the homeless. Approximately 40 per cent of homeless youth have at one time been in foster care or group homes.

In BC, when a youth in foster care turns 19, they are abruptly cut-off from all financial, educational, and “family-like” supports funded by government, and set adrift to navigate adulthood on their own.

At 19, even well-adjusted young people, with the support of a loving family, can have a tough time. For youth who have been in foster care, who have faced significant trauma in the family home, and been taken into custody by the government, it can be a chaotic, scary and de-stabilizing time. All too often, for these youth, an unsupported transition to adulthood has a negative impact on almost every aspect of their life — housing, career and school schedules, adult relationships, economic security, safety and even mental health.

“Across British Columbia, too many youth age out of foster care without family support, connection to community or other basic needs such as housing or employment,” said Kevin McCort, President and CEO of Vancouver Foundation. “As a result, they are more likely than their peers to drop out of school, become parents before they are ready, experience homelessness or end up in trouble with the law — costly consequences that affect us all; consequences we believe can be prevented.”

Preventing youth homelessness is a major priority for Vancouver Foundation. The release of Fostering Change: Vancouver Foundation’s Transitions Survey in advance of Homelessness Action Week (October 13 to 19) is part of the Foundation’s Youth Homelessness Initiative (YHI), a four-pronged program designed to address the challenges facing youth aging out of government care. To gain a better understanding of public attitudes, values and perceptions of youth aging out of government care Vancouver Foundation surveyed 1,820 adult British Columbians in early 2013.   

Among the findings of Fostering Change: Vancouver Foundation’s Transitions Survey:

    • The majority of British Columbians (71 per cent) underestimate the number of youth who are currently in foster care or a group home. And they have no idea how the system is structured. Only 28 per cent are aware that government support is cut off when young people turn 19.
    • Even with low levels of understanding, the survey found 68 per cent of British Columbians think that support should be available to young people transitioning from government care to adulthood at least until the age of 21. Among those respondents who had a clearer understanding of the problem (and the number of youth in care) there was even greater willingness to extend support to 23 or 24 years-old.

The Transitions Survey shed light on the importance of family connections that most young adults aged 19-28 in the province enjoy. The survey found:

    • 70 per cent of British Columbians believe that the 19-year-olds living in their city or town do not have the necessary skills and resources to live away from home and support themselves independently.
    • 90 per cent of parents of 19- to 28-year-olds said they would worry about their children in the event they couldn’t provide them with any support.
    • Most parents who have 19- to 28-year-old children living at home provide support to their children in six areas: shopping and groceries (69 per cent), free rent (69 per cent), post-secondary education funding (60 per cent), living supplies (56 per cent), transportation (55 per cent) and job advice (53 per cent).
    • While 19- to 28-year-olds living away from home receive less support than their counterparts living at home, their parents are helping them in a variety of ways.  In fact, 80 per cent of parents who have 19- to 28-years-olds living away from home provide their children with some form of support.

BC residents view the transition of a youth from government care quite differently than they view the transition of their own child from home, according to the survey. When presented with various policy and investment recommendations that would help prevent youth homelessness, survey respondents’ support of these initiatives were inconsistent with the kinds of support most young people receive from their own families.

    • Only 29 per cent of respondents listed support finding safe, affordable housing as a way to prevent homelessness among youth aging out of government care.  In contrast, 36 per cent of youth ages 19-28 in BC live at home, and the majority of parents surveyed provide housing assistance to their own children.
    • While 70 per cent of BC residents identified access to employment and training programs as a way to prevent youth homelessness, only 43 per cent chose providing financial support for education as among the most effective ways to prevent homelessness.
    • When informed that only 20 per cent of youth in government care graduate from high school, only 30 per cent of BC residents were troubled by this fact.
    • Even though the majority of BC residents (62 per cent) selected the high rate of mental health diagnosis among youth in care as “the fact that they find most troubling about this population,” only 26 per cent of residents selected “access to mental health services” as among the most effective solutions to prevent youth transitioning out of care from becoming homeless.

The lack of public support to help youth successfully transition out of government care to adulthood suggests that we have a higher expectation of young people who have been bounced around the foster care system and forced to make it on their own when they turn 19, than we do for our own children,” said McCort.

Young people belong in homes in their community with opportunities to learn, grow and contribute. As a civil society, we have a collective responsibility to support our young people in their journey to adulthood.”

Every British Columbian has a role to play in addressing youth homelessness, he said. When it comes to renting, hiring, training and mentoring options, people should be able to find resources in their community that help them look out for youth from foster care, and celebrate their