Manitoba commits to extending services for youth aging out of care during COVID-19

Youth aging out of care in Manitoba will have their services extended during the COVID-19 pandemic, the province announced.

Manitoba will continue to extend supports to all youth currently in care who turn 18 between Mar. 20 and Sept. 30.

“This pandemic is creating uncertainty for all Manitobans including many youth in our child welfare system,” Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement.

“We will work with child welfare authorities and agencies to ensure funding and supports are in place to make this possible.”

Stefanson committed to extend supports to all youth currently in care who turn 18 between Mar. 20 and Sept. 30.

Youth in the province receive supports until they turn 18 or until they “age out.” These supports can be extended in some cases until the age of 21 when the youth enters in an voluntary agreement with the province. These are usually offered to someone who is still in school or someone living with a disability.

This also includes youth who are in foster care placements. Youth who choose to move out of their foster homes will continue to receive financial support.

Advocates in the province are celebrating this decision.

“This is extraordinary,” Marie Christian, program director for Voices: Manitoba’s Youth in Care Network, told APTN News.

“We have to let young people know they are not abandoned, they are not forgotten, they matter, and they belong to a community and they’re going to be cared for by their community until we can all find our feet to take care of ourselves again.”

APTN News first asked the province about issuing a moratorium on the practice on Mar. 27. This came the day after Ontario made the decision to extend services.

The following week Saskatchewan and British Columbia also committed to extending services.

Christian and her colleagues sent a notice to the province and the four child and family service authorities on Mar. 31 requesting the government continue supports for youth coming to age during the pandemic.

Young people need access to resources now more than ever, she argued.

The new era of physical distancing makes it difficult to find a job or housing – all realities youth aging out of care at 18 have to deal with.

“Everything is just amplified by the fact that as a community we’re being told to stay home and physically distance ourselves,” said Christian.

“Young people from care are the strongest, most resilient kids in the world but this is a lot to deal with on your own.”

Last week, the Metis Child and Family Services Authority issued a directive to its agencies to continue to provide services for youth aging out.

Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth, also welcomed the move.

“It gives kids the ability to look after themselves during this time and not have to worry about what’s going to happen to them when they turn 18.”

Youth who currently have a voluntary agreement in place until the age of 21 will continue to receive this assistance over the same timeframe, regardless of their age.

Youth have the opportunity to extend access to services by entering into an agreement with the province. These are usually offered to someone who is still in school or someone living with a disability.

The province said this change could benefit more than 280 youth in care and more than 70 youth with agreements.

Christian would like to see the province offer supports to youth who have aged out prior to Mar 20. The Network originally asked Manitoba to extend services to youth who would have aged out in January.

She believes there is still an opportunity for social workers to check on those youth to see if supports are needed.

Penrose suggests youth who aged out prior to Mar. 20 contact her office or their social workers if they need help.

“This is such an unprecedented time. [The province] is doing their very best…this is a display of that right now, so hopefully it captures as many youth as possible.”

The province also said 10 additional units will be made available through Manitoba Housing for youth trying to secure housing. These unit will be set aside for clients of the non-profit Resource Assistance for Youth.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.