TORONTO, Feb. 17, 2016 /CNW/ - Many young people who live in residential care experience feelings of isolation, fear and rootlessness, and don't feel included in decisions made about their lives, according to a new report published by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
The report, Searching For Home: Reimagining Residential Care, also sheds further light on the current state of the province's child welfare system and provides personal stories of young people's struggles in the system. The province's residential care system consists of foster homes and kinship care, youth justice facilities, group homes, and residential secure treatment facilities (e.g. mental health facilities).
This report is timely given recent media stories and reports – including the Auditor General's Annual Report and Justice Susan Lang's findings regarding the Motherisk lab at the Hospital for Sick Children – which highlight the need for fundamental change in the child welfare system. At the same time, a panel appointed last year by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to understand the current challenges with the residential care system and make its recommendations is set to release its own report imminently.
"Young people must be able to share their stories and voice their concerns about the current child welfare model with those who have the power to change it," said Chelsea Hopper, a Youth Amplifier with the Advocate's Office. "Young people need to be informed and included about decisions being made about their lives."
Last fall, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, Irwin Elman, and two Youth Amplifiers traveled across the province speaking to approximately 100 youth about their lived experiences in Ontario's residential care system. The group met with children and youth in different locations, including mental health secure treatment settings, custody facilities, mental health treatment centres, group homes, youth shelters and at youth group sessions in children's aid societies and children's mental health centres.
"Young people need a home – a real home – a place where they feel safe, connected, supported and heard," said Sheldon Caruana, Youth Amplifier. "But what we heard is that children and youth are not getting what they need from the province to help reach their full potential. 'Home' means different things to different people, and young people need a space where their individual needs and aspirations are met, rather than a 'one size fits all' approach."
Some of the issues young people raised and are highlighted in the report, include:
- Loss of individuality and self-determination:
- Many youth feel they are perceived through the lens of the single event that brought them into care (e.g., victim of abuse, young offender, or a diagnosis) and not as a whole person.
- Many feel that they're treated as just "one of many," regardless of their individual's needs, aspirations, rights or personal choices
- Decisions that affect their lives are often made without their involvement or any understanding of their circumstances.
- Lack of safety and control:
- Bullying, fighting and the use of physical and chemical restraints are commonplace, and can traumatize people in residential care.
- An inability to speak to staff about complaints for fear of reprisal, stigmatization or being moved on to another residential setting is common.
- Many youth feel not enough time and attention is devoted by staff to understanding their needs and life situation, and understandable explanations about their plans of care are rarely given to them.
- Many youth are placed in residential care with no explanation about why they are being taken from their home or who made the decision to place them in care.
- Little attempt is made to help youth maintain connections with siblings, extended family members or other meaningful individuals in their lives before placement decisions are made.
- Increased isolation from their friends, family or community can result in their feeling a lack of stability or permanence and prevent them from forming strong, positive relationships.
- Youth are moved from home to home, often abruptly, and without explanation, warning or consideration of their best interests.
The report lists 24 recommendations based on the ideas and experiences of young people who attended the meetings.
"We are pleased that the province's panel attended some of our meetings to hear directly from youth. As they develop their recommendations to improve the residential care system, I hope they reflect on what they heard and keep the voices of young people front and centre," said Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (the Advocate's Office) provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The Office's child and youth advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and The Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools). Reporting directly to the Legislature, the Provincial Advocate may identify systemic problems involving children, conduct reviews and provide education and advice on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children.
The Office is guided by the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a strong commitment to youth involvement. For more information, visit: www.provincialadvocate.on.ca. For updates, read the Advocate's Blog and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
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