TORONTO, May 14, 2015 /CNW/ - Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman is urging government and child welfare leaders to work together to remove systemic and cultural barriers within the child welfare system. Elman was speaking at an event in Toronto in recognition of Children and Youth in Care Day.
"At every turn, many young people in care said they feel invisible, with life-changing decisions made without their knowledge, involvement or even consent," said Elman. "If we are truly committed to helping youth reach their full potential and live successful, independent lives after they leave care, then we need to stop setting low expectations for them and remove barriers that deny them the opportunities and tools to shape their future," said Elman. "These changes don't require money, but they do require a shift in the way we view young people by caring about them, rather than caring for them."
Shanna Allen was taken into care at the age of eight after her mother suffered from a serious illness. She was never told by child welfare authorities where she was going to live; with whom; if this was a temporary or permanent arrangement; and if she would ever see her mother again. She was later made a crown ward and placed in various foster homes. Not once was Shanna asked if she wanted to be considered for adoption or given an opportunity to have a say about what was happening in her life.
"When you have no control over your life, it takes a huge mental and physical toll. You don't feel loved, valued or accepted by others. You simply feel helpless as others determine your future," said Allen.
Currently, many young people are struggling after they transition out of care and are left without earlier supports provided by the province:
- Less than 44 per cent of youth in care graduate from high school, compared to an 81 per cent graduation rate for the general population.
- An estimated 43 per cent of homeless youth have previous child welfare involvement and 68 per cent have come from foster homes, group homes and/or a youth center.
- An estimated 82 per cent of children in care have diagnosed special needs.
- Numerous reports going back to the mid-1980s recognize that youth leaving care are over-represented in the youth justice, mental health and shelter systems.
- 82 per cent of children in care are diagnosed with special needs and while in care, they receive health, dental, education and treatment supports.
Ontario is not the only jurisdiction experiencing problems with transitions out of the child welfare system, according to Alison Alexander, Director of Children's Services with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in England. Alexander, a former youth in care, was a keynote speaker at a Children's Aid Foundation event in recognition of Children and Youth in Care Day.
"Similar to Ontario, we are seeing low outcomes for youth after they leave care, with high rates of incarceration, homelessness and poor educational achievements," said Alexander. "I share the Provincial Advocate's conviction that nothing can be more important than creating the conditions where children and young people can take control of their lives during their time in care. This will prepare them for success for the rest of their lives."
A copy of Alison Alexander's speech is available at: "Owning Lives."
About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate reports directly to the Legislature and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The 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). 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.
"Our government believes that youth deserve a voice about their futures and we are committed to listening to what they have to say. Through the Premier's Council on Youth Opportunities and the recent review of the Child and Family Services Act, we have heard from youth with lived experience from all over the province – it's their voice that will inform our work going forward to improve the lives and outcomes for all children in care."
–the Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services
"Thousands of children in Ontario and Canada require care and assistance away from their family every day. Adapting to new circumstances such as being in a foster home, a group home, in a dedicated institution or with relatives is a challenge at such an important time in their development. A child may require care for a variety of reasons, ranging from the loss of their parents to the removal from abusive environments. Entering the care system turns their world upside down, and they need to form new bonds with people and workers they will trust to have their best interests at heart. Today, we come together to recognize the enormous efforts made by children and service providers to help the care system deliver the best possible results. Ontario needs them to succeed, and as legislators we must ensure we give them the best chance to do so."
-Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry and PC Critic for Children and Youth Services
"Each year, Children and Youth in Care Day serves as a reminder that our responsibility is to provide a safe environment where children in the care of the province can flourish and prepare themselves for successful, fulfilling lives as adults. I am eternally grateful to the youth of Our Voice, Our Turn for making it happen."
-Monique Taylor, MPP for Hamilton Mountain and NDP Critic for Children and Youth Services
The Office of the Provincial Advocate has led a number of initiatives to help young people take control of their lives and elevate their voices to decision-makers. These include:
- Held at the Legislature, the landmark 2011 Youth Leaving Care Hearings were organized by over 100 youth in and from care. More than 700 people attended over two days of hearings and 150 submissions were made.
- My Real Life Book report was written by seven youth in and from care about their experiences in care. To date, the report has received 150,000 downloads with over 100 workshops held and more than 10,000 people in attendance. The report led to the creation of an official Children and Youth in Care Day on May 14th.
- The I Do Care project was launched in 2013 to help inform youth about their rights and to empower them so they can participate actively in discussions about their healthcare. Based on the experiences and input from young people and service providers, The Ultimate Health Rights Survival Guide was developed to educate young people about their health rights (as protected under law); to know how to apply their rights to their own situation; to track their progress; and to learn the steps to make decisions about their own healthcare.
- In 2012, the Advocate's office launched Feathers of Hope – a forum that brings together hundreds of First Nations youth to take part in discussions on issues that matter to them. A five-year Feathers of Hope: Youth Action Plan was presented to government and First Nations leaders outlining the experiences of First Nations youth and their recommendations for creating healthier, safer communities. The next Feathers of Hope forum will focus on child welfare and be held May 19 to 22 in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
- In 2013, the Advocate's office led a special consultation with young people in the province who are living with mental health challenges. The report, Putting Youth in the Picture, captures their views on mental health.
SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
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