Youth on verge of aging out of care await decision

April 8, 2020

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

SHE'D been preparing to start her adult life, on her own for the first time, with plans to get a job and enroll in post-secondary school.

She was already nervous about leaving the child-welfare system, where she spent most of her life, and had received an extension of care after she turned 18.

Now, she'll age out of Manitoba's Child and Family Services system during a pandemic, and doubts she'll be able to find a job to support herself after she turns 21 later this month.

"It's hard right now, especially, just to go and try and get a job," said the 20-year-old Winnipeg woman, whom the Free Press is not naming because of her status as a youth in CFS care.

"It feels like we're just jumping into the deep end after that, after having these supports here, and then them not fully setting you up. They're just kind of like, 'OK, you're aging out.'"

While the federal government and other provinces, including B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan, have promised no youth in their child-welfare systems will stop receiving care and supports during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Manitoba hasn't made such a commitment.

The provincial government has been asked repeatedly whether it will issue a moratorium on youth aging out of care. During a news conference last week, Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the department was in the process of figuring out how to work with youth set to age out of the system.

She said Manitoba is "ahead of other jurisdictions already" with its current practice of granting extensions of care up to age 21 to select youth who need extra support. As for stopping all youth from aging out of care, Stefanson told reporters to stay tuned for a forthcoming announcement.

"This is very much on my radar," she said April 2.

The Métis Child and Family Services Authority decided not to wait. On April 1, it issued a directive ordering its agencies not to allow youth to age out of care for the next three months. The decision will affect about 24 young people who will be turning either 18 or 21 before the end of June.

"This is about doing the right thing for our young people," said authority chief executive officer Billie Schibler.

She said she understands the province is concerned about ensuring it has the authority to prevent youth from aging out of the system under existing legislation.

"The issue is, when people are in a crisis - when a province is in a crisis, when the world is in a crisis - sometimes you just gotta do what is logically the right thing to do and figure it out later. And we as service providers, we have to do that, and beg forgiveness after, I suppose," Schibler said.

She said the Métis CFS agencies have been directed to continue paying for room and board and expenses to allow young adults in their care to remain in foster homes or placements. They'll review that decision after three months, and work with youth who want to be on their own to make sure they have appropriate support.

"We wouldn't do that to our own children. So why would we do that to children that we are responsible for? That's what it came down to," Schibler said.

The lack of consistency among different CFS agencies' response to the pandemic is part of the problem, said Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. It's unfair some youth will be allowed to continue receiving support while others may be on their own, she said.

"I can't understand why our provincial government wouldn't want to do something to prevent more people becoming homeless during this time, and alleviate pressures on these organizations who are rushing to service people who are on the streets," Morgan said.

As she approaches her 21st birthday, the Winnipeg woman plans to stay with family, so she's not worried about becoming homeless, but she is stressed about not being able to contribute to rent payments.

"I think it's just a day-by-day thing, because no one really knows when this is going to be over," she said. "I don't feel at ease a lot of the time, because it's like a question mark."


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