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Jennifer Charlesworth, British Columbia's representative for children and youth, is seen in Victoria on Dec. 10, 2018.Dirk Meissner/The Canadian Press

The children’s watchdog in British Columbia is calling on the province to significantly increase supports for youth who are “aging out” of foster care, including funding them into adulthood.

Jennifer Charlesworth said Tuesday that most youth in British Columbia can rely on family support into their 20s, and those in government care should be treated the same. The Representative for Children and Youth called on the province to ensure young people continue to receive government services until they are 27.

That “probably sounds pretty expensive,” Ms. Charlesworth said. “What is even more expensive is the status quo.”

Rick FitzZaland, executive director of the Federation of Community Social Services of BC, concurred, noting the expense of dealing with young people if they end up on the street, with addictions or come in contact with the justice system.

“I have five children and I can’t imagine when one turned 19 showing them to the door closing it behind them and wishing them good luck,” Mr. FitzZaland said.

“Hopefully I’ve spent the first 19 years teaching them the skills they need to survive in the world and making them feel loved and included and nurtured. But we’re not doing that [for children in care], we’re not giving them the skills they need and then we’re dropping them at the doorstep.”

About 850 young people transition out of care every year and Ms. Charlesworth’s report says supports for them are “notoriously scarce, inequitable, rigid and a poor fit.”

For many foster youth, 19 has become a frightening and unhappy birthday. The report, the 10th done on the issue in British Columbia in the past six years, says the current system “virtually shapes a life of poverty” for vulnerable youth in the province, putting them at a disproportionate risk of homelessness, unemployment, poverty and substance use.

The report recommends automatically putting youth in a program to support those who are enrolled in university or trade school. Currently, fewer than 10 per cent of eligible young adults are receiving money under the program.

Her office is calling for lasting changes, recommending dedicated housing for former foster youth and the creation of provincewide “transition” workers to provide adult guidance and mentorship to 27.

Mitzi Dean, the newly named B.C. Minister for Children and Family Development and a British transplant who worked for years in child services in Britain before moving to Victoria, said she agreed with the representative that changes are needed to more fully support youth and young adults in and from care.

“For many years, services for youth in care who were transitioning to adulthood were not enough or simply non-existent. We have come a long way since then, and there is more work still to do. We are working to make those changes happen.”

Ms. Charlesworth added that temporary relief measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that government can act quickly and nimbly when it wants to. Since March, an emergency measure has allowed youth to continue receiving assistance beyond their 19th birthdays, for example.

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