OPINION: Not all children look forward to their 18th birthday
Children contentedly living at home for years after they become legal adults is the reality in many families. And yet, for those within the youth protection system, in foster care or group homes, it’s standard practice to cut support off abruptly when they turn 18.
Every year, about 6,000 young people in Canada, including 1,500 in Quebec, are “aged out” of the system. Many of them were traumatised early on by adverse conditions, and cared for by strangers in the public system, and are then expected to adjust to the withdrawal of services and the necessity of taking on adult responsibilities.
Based on current statistics, those under state care are thrust into independent living almost 10 years earlier than other young people. In some cases, there has been only minimal preparation to help them cope on their own, and they have access to little financial or emotional support.
Where is the consideration for the readiness of these young adults to survive on their own? For people who were separated from family at an early age, managing independently is arguably a greater challenge than for those looking to leave the comforts of a loving family home.
‘I am really scared’
Consider the story of Allison (not her real name).
She was placed in foster care at age seven after her father left and because her mother suffered from poorly controlled epilepsy. By age 13, she had been getting into fights at school for years and began skipping class. After she tried to hit her foster mother, she was moved to a group home.
Contemplating her 18th birthday, Allison says, “I have been looking for a job, but without high school, it’s not so easy. This weekend my social worker is helping me move into a room in a boarding house. I am really scared.”
Stories like Allison’s are all too common. Young people leave care with little or no support and few skills. Not surprisingly, North American studies on youth aging out of care indicate they don’t tend to fare well as adults. Many don’t finish high school and struggle with unemployment or underemployment. They are overrepresented among the homeless, in prisons and on adult psychiatric wards.
There is increasing recognition of the importance of specialized support for youth leaving care, but with strained government budgets, there are variations in what is provided in different regions. In some cases in Quebec, young people may have access to the support of a worker or limited financial help until they reach 21. But this is by no means the case for everyone leaving care.
We need to lobby our elected officials to find ways to address the inequities these young people face compared to those who can count on the support of their families.
At the same time, we should also support community initiatives working to address the needs of these youth. Through my research at Concordia, I have encountered an inspiring group of people who formed a non-profit organization with the intention of supporting young adults recently cut off from the system or who are still in care.
CARE Jeunesse (Centre Amitié, Ressources et Entraide pour la Jeunesse) was created to improve the quality of life of these young Quebecers by providing a safe environment, supportive relationships and advocacy, education and empowerment opportunities.
These courageous individuals have had challenging beginnings themselves. And yet, they’ve mustered the strength to work at making things better for other young people in care. Let’s step up and encourage them!
On Sunday, November 13, CARE Jeunesse will host its first fundraiser in the multi-faith Loyola Chapel. Organizers invite visitors to invest in their own well-being while supporting the most vulnerable youth in our community. Find out more by following the group on Facebook or Twitter.
Stop by the CARE Jeunesse Self-Care Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, at Concordia's multi-faith Loyola Chapel (7141 Sherbrooke Street W.). Tickets for the event can be purchased online.
Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Applied Human Sciences.