The Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition (SPRC) has been working on an important project to raise awareness and increase community engagement around youth who are “aging out” of the provincial care system. Currently, it is the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s (MCFD) policy that a child in the care system becomes an adult and is no longer eligible for government care on his or her 19th Birthday, regardless of their readiness or ability. This abrupt end to care leaves youth very vulnerable in their transition to adulthood and isn’t reflective of the kind of support a youth would continue to receive in a typical family.
SPRC has launched “Connecting Community to Surrey Youth Leaving Care” to radically rethink the ways in which these young people are supported when they transition from the care of MCFD, into adulthood. Change making is most impactful when the people affected are involved. And so SPRC has been committed to the vision, not about them without them – meaning “all phases of the project will engage youth in [and] from care.” The project reflects and promotes Vancouver Foundation’s Fostering Change Initiative (http://www.fosteringchange.ca/), with the goal focusing on rethinking the way the needs of the youth are being met and what support they receive in achieving their aspirations.
The first step in the project was to compile available information and research on youth who are living in care and are from Surrey. Some alarming facts the research revealed about the situation was that the number of youth who are expected to age out of care in 2016-17 has grown from 54 in 2015-16 to 59; these youth also face greater challenges in areas such as homelessness, education, employment, income, as well as physical and mental health, justice involvement, substance use, pregnancy, parenting, and involvement with the child welfare system.
The Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition held its first workshop of this project in May 2016 and used the results of the research to inform the attendees about the realities of youth aging out of care in Surrey. This workshop also generated a number of ideas about what is currently being done and what more can be achieved to help young people in Surrey reach their aspirations.
A second workshop was held in June 2016 and focused more on action planning, with everyone coming up with ideas that would create more opportunities for youth aging out of the care system.
Both workshops welcomed a great diversity of participants, from those working in business, non-profit and education to government and social services, and also featured a panel of “alumni” – young people who had successfully made the transition, describing the factors that had helped them to succeed.
The third and final part of the project will be an art exhibit called The 19th Birthday Party, which will display digital stories by youth aging out of care and will be held in October 2016. Installed in the atrium at the Surrey City Hall, the exhibit will be a compelling representation of the challenges faced by youth aging out of the care system, with aims to increase public awareness of the situation for youth in and from care.
In Surrey, there are a number of programs and initiatives that provide support for youth beyond the age of 19. Local social service agencies like Pacific Community Resource Society (PCRS), SOS Children’s Village and Options Community Services Society have a range of programs that help young people get access to education, training, jobs and housing; Options is hosting and supporting a local Network of Youth in Care. The Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association (FRAFCA) focuses on the unique needs and interests of Aboriginal youth who have experienced foster care. The Surrey School District provides guidance and support in graduating from high school and in obtaining employment through mentoring and job shadowing. As well, the City of Surrey’s Recreation Department offers Leisure Access Passes that give free or reduced rate access to community centre facilities and programs. These are a few of the resources that youth can access, but much more is needed.
SPRC is seeking funding to continue phase 2 of the project to explore with Surrey youth aging out of care in regards to what concrete actions would most help them in their transition to adulthood. Visit https://www.facebook.com/AgedOut1/?fref=ts to learn more about the different focus groups that https://agedout.com/ is facilitating.
The Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition was established in 2012 to promote implementation of the Surrey Poverty Reduction Plan (THIS is how we end poverty in Surrey). The Surrey Homelessness & Housing Society would like to thank Alice Sundberg, coordinator for the Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition, for providing information on youth aging out of care in Surrey.
To learn more about youth aging out of care and what you can do to help, please see the fact sheet: http://surreyprc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Surrey-Youth-Leaving-Care-Fact-Sheet-WEB-1.pdf