Almost 17,000 of Ontario’s children are in the care of Children’s Aid Societies: one out of every 182 children. Only 44 percent of youth in care graduate from high school. In Ontario, Aboriginal people make up two percent of the population, but 22 percent of Crown Wards. Whichever way you look at it, Ontario’s child welfare system needs fundamental change.
On Monday, Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services, Eric Hoskins, received an innovative new report based on legislative hearings held last fall where youth who have experienced life in care shared their stories and recommendations about how to fix Ontario’s child welfare system.
The report breaks down the experience of youth in care into six themes:
- We are vulnerable: young people in care are moved between carers and decisions are often made by people who have never met them.
- We are isolated: young people still trying to come to terms with family disruption and other serious events in their lives, but they are not being adequately supported.
- We are left out of our lives: decisions are made on behalf of children and young people in care, which removes any ability for them to participate in making important decisions about their own lives, leading to feelings of isolation and invisibility.
- No one is really there for us: young people are removed from their homes for a variety of reasons, but all have come from unhealthy or unsafe environments. Children need stable and steady relationships and support to help them come to terms with their past, but this isn’t always available.
- Care is unpredictable: when young people are placed in care, everything in their life changes. They have to learn to adapt to new homes, new caregivers, and new routines.
- Care ends and we struggle: care ends as soon as young people turn 21, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to a smooth transition into adulthood.
The report makes a series of recommendations, but most fundamentally that the Province should work with young people in and from care and other stakeholders to complete an action plan for fundamental change by November 2012. Already Minister Hoskins has announced that a working group will be formed, although he has not committed to the November deadline.
This report is an excellent example of community-based research and policy action. Holding youth-led legislative hearings provided an opportunity to learn from people who have experienced being in the child welfare system. Moreover, the report itself was written by six young people from across the province, with the support of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. This grassroots knowledge can identify opportunities for social change and can mobilize populations to take action on the matters that are important in their lives.