March 23, 2020 - Ottawa, ON – Youth who are in or have experience of being in care face an uncertain future that is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exception of Quebec, where youth transition out of care at the age of 18, all provinces and territories offer some form of post incare services up to the age of 21. But that support varies greatly across the country both in what is offered and who is eligible.
Youth in care networks from across the country, the Child Welfare League of Canada, A Way Home Canada and the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada are concerned for the well-being of these young adults, many of whom live in very precarious situations. We call on provincial and territorial governments, and on all agencies serving young people in and from care to immediately implement the following four urgent measures.
1. Immediately and indefinitely suspend legislated aged cut-offs for youth reaching the age of majority
Youth who have reached the age where they would transition out of care should be permitted to remain in their current placements and receive supports – no files should be closed, nor should any services be withdrawn, including access to extended care workers and supports that would otherwise be conditional on being in school or in training. Where youth have applied and are waiting for services, applications should be processed without delay.
2. Immediately provide free accessible mental health services and maintain family and cultural connections for youth in and from care
Youth are particularly vulnerable to PTSD triggers due to forced isolation. Pursue regular meetings between youth, caregivers, and social workers. Youth need their family more than ever. Protect and promote family and cultural connections for youth, especially for First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth, and Black, racialized and LGBTQ2S+ youth who are overrepresented in care. Provide free mental health supports (i.e. counselling, psychologist, psychiatrist, Elders), using phone, online chat and video conferencing to maintain continuity of connection.
3. Reach out to those who have recently transitioned out of care and offer additional supports required for their survival, with no eligibility criteria or conditions attached
Youth who are or have been in care should have immediate access to housing and financial support for all necessities, including rent, groceries and medications. Youth with disabilities should have access to additional resources that meet their specific needs. No arbitrary cut off date should be imposed on these essential services, with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach being implemented to ensure young people with a precarious status are not left behind.
Governments should provide access to bridge funding for all former youth in care, those who are leaving or have recently left detention, and those in precarious housing situations. As most child protection systems do not track youth once they have aged out of the system, communication of this funding should be made via a public call and include an outreach number for youth who are in need of supports. Funds should be made accessible to youth from the child welfare system irrespective of age and without intrusive documentation processes.
4. When young people come to you seeking housing and services, do not turn them away
The risk for placement abuse and intimate partner violence increases with social distancing measures. Young people in and from care may be looking for alternative placements and safer housing arrangements. Child welfare agencies should continue to check in with young people and reach out to those living independently and be prepared to take action to address unsafe situations.
Youth shelters and housing providers should be granted flexibility and supported to create alternative arrangements to ensure young people can remain housed. If there are circumstances where youth present with symptoms of COVID-19, immediate measures should be taken to quarantine. No young person should be turned away from housing.
All governments should immediately suspend evictions, including from higher education dormitories – many persons in and from the child welfare system may not have a safe or adequate ‘home’ to go to.
We thank the frontline workers, advocates, families, and all the youth who are doing their part to protect and connect with young people in and from care in this uniquely vulnerable time. We call on governments and agencies to implement the measures highlighted above, thereby working to ensure the best protective steps are taken for youth in and from care.
Media contact: To speak with leaders of youth in care networks, communicate with:
Rachel Gouin, Executive Director,
Child Welfare League of Canada