Youth continue to age out of Ontario’s child welfare system during the COVID-19 pandemic with some ending up on the streets, according to advocates.
“No young person at this time, in this crisis, should be thrust from supports they have into this maelstrom. To do so is nothing less than cruel,” said Irwin Elman, Ontario’s former child advocate, whose office was shuttered by Premier Doug Ford in early 2019.
Elman said Ford needs to put a moratorium on all kids “aging out” otherwise known as transitioning out of care, which usually happens either at 18 or 21 depending on the type of care the child has received.
“Young people from care already feeling the pain of isolation and already confronting barriers to the practical resources to survive so many of us take for granted are acutely at risk as the country deals with the pandemic,” said Elman.
APTN News asked the Ontario government if it plans to suspend this practice during the pandemic.
“The ministry is aware of the impact that COVID-19 may have on youth who are aging out of care or systems of support. We are working to implement a solution as quickly as possible,” said Genevieve Oger, spokesperson for the ministry of children, community and social services.
Erik Wexler, program manager of Free 2 Be, a program that helps kids transition out of care at WoodGreen Community Service in Toronto, tweeted Sunday he is seeing kids “age out in large numbers, finding themselves among the homeless who are now at greater risk than ever before.”
“#Free2be is still serving in anyway we can. We are still here for you. You are not alone!” said Wexler.
APTN reached out to Wexler but he wasn’t available Monday.
In the midst of tCOVID-19, #youthfromcare continue to age out in large numbers, finding themselves among the homeless who are now at greater risk than ever before. #FREE2BE is still serving in anyway we can. We are still here for you. You are not alone! pic.twitter.com/eO8wBkudYi
— Erik Wexler, Father, Partner, Friend, Manager (@ErikWexler2) March 22, 2020
Youth in Ontario that age out on their birthday see their funding and sometimes housing cut off.
That happened to one Ottawa resident March 1 on his 21st birthday – there were no more cheques coming in to support him and it’s not clear what resources were offered to help provide supports. APTN continues to look into this case and hasn’t been able to reach his former case worker.
It appears to be a problem across the country as Youth in Care Canada called on all governments to indefinitely suspend aging-out policies during the pandemic.
“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,” the organization said in a press release Monday.
Meanwhile in Ontario, Dr. Kim Snow, a professor at Ryerson University and leading expert on child welfare in Ontario, said she’s hearing all sorts of horror stories from kids in care and frontline workers.
“This is an overwhelming crisis for child welfare on every front,” said Snow.
She’s heard of group or foster homes not having personal protective equipment.
Snow is afraid this is going to lead to shortages in staffing for employees who typically earn minimum wage in residential care.
“What would you do right now if you are making minimum wage with your own kids at home who are scared and kids at work that you are having to physically restrain because they are so distressed?” said Snow, adding these workers perform an essential service and most of them will still likely choose to go to work because of its importance.
The government said it’s trying to help.
“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, children’s aid societies are continuing to operate and provide services to children, youth and families. Societies have been encouraged to be creative in providing services, using technology where possible and appropriate, while also observing public health recommendations,” said Oger, speaking on behalf of the province.
“The government has allocated $20 million for residential facilities, including those providing care for children and youth, to support additional staffing, respite for caregivers impacted by school closures, personal protective equipment and supplies and transportation costs to minimize client exposure and to support social distancing, as well as additional cleaning costs.”
Marco Frangione is a child welfare lawyer in Thunder Bay who serves many remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario.
“Where do I begin?” said Frangione when asked what’s happening with his cases.
He said he’s seeing a split in how cases are being handled depending on the agency involved.
“It’s awful. Services aren’t being provided. Caregivers are being kept in the dark. Requests are being made to see children and no update is being provided about their welfare,” said Frangione.
But some kids continue to see their parents for visits but requests to keep them at home during the pandemic are being denied, he said.
Another lawyer told APTN a northern Ontario woman recently gave birth and “now can’t see the baby because no workers are available to supervise and no spaces are open for visits.”
APTN continues to follow that case, as well.
APTN has also asked the federal government if it plans to assist youth aging out of on-reserve care, as the feds fund it, but haven’t heard back.