More help needed for Indigenous youth leaving government care, says support agency

Joshua Azizi

Employees from a support organization for First Nations youth and families in Northwest BC. say that a new report from the BC Representative for Children and Youth highlights the challenges that Indigenous youth in care face when they transition into adulthood.

The report is titled "A Parent's Duty," and it examines the consequences of how youth in care lose all government supports – such as their social worker and residence – when they turn 19, which places them at risk for experiencing poverty and homelessness.

The report also found that Indigenous youth represent two-thirds of all youth in care in BC.

There are financial support programs for youth leaving care, such as the Agreements with Young Adults program or AYA. However, Northwest Inter-Nation Family and Community Services Society (NIFCS) Executive Director Kathleen Bennett said many Indigenous youth aren't able to meet the requirements for these support programs, which can put them at risk.

She gave the example of one orphaned youth who was kicked off of the AYA program at the start of the pandemic.

"I got a call from the social worker who almost had tears in her eyes, saying: 'Kathleen: we have COVID, we have a youth who has aged out of care, he was kicked out of his apartment, he would be homeless, he was on AYA and [the Ministry for Children and Family Development] says they're not extending him because he doesn't meet the eligibility.'"

Another issue outlined in the report is how Indigenous youth in care lack connections to their families and culture, which makes them more vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes.

Sherrie Halbane is a part of NIFCS's grandmothers' group, which provides support to primarily Lax Kw'alaams youth in care. She stressed the importance of cultural connections.

"We want to make sure that a child knows they have a forever family or a forever home and forever connection, most importantly that they are loved and belonged. And starting at an early age would help make that connection a reality."

Seven recommendations were included in the report for improving the transition into adulthood, including automatically enrolling all youth leaving in care into the AYA program and allowing youth in care to stay in their residences after they turn 19. 

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