Youth, social policy, and health: making the connections

Currently, when a Crown ward turns 21, they are no longer eligible for provincial assistance through the Children’s Aid Society. Caseworkers are faced with few options other than referring their young clients to shelters and the social assistance system for continued support.

A new report released yesterday by the Ontario Provincial Advocate for Youth and Children argues that continuing to provide support for former Crown wards for an additional four years – until age 25 – would have significant benefits in helping young people to finish their education and improve their employment prospects and mental health, while avoiding the criminal justice system, homelessness, early pregnancy and teen parenting. The report argues that for every $1 that the province invests by extending supports to Crown wards until age 25, $1.36 will be recouped over their working lifetime.

The Toronto Star has picked up yesterday’s report, and John Stapleton, the report’s author, has written an excellent op ed.

This shows how important it is to undertake these kinds of sophisticated analyses of the long-term costs and benefits of enhancing social policies and programs. It is well-documented that health is closely linked with income and employment outcomes, and providing opportunities for youth to succeed early in life will also support a healthier and more productive population. Yesterday’s report adds to the evidence that the provincial government must enhance youth opportunities as an important step towards improving Ontarians’ health.

The Wellesley Institute seeks to build health into social policy. For example, our work on social assistance reform argued that building a health-enabling system means starting from a clear vision and creating a comprehensive strategy that builds community resources and connects policy silos across government, and our Blueprint to End Homelessness makes the link between high-quality housing and improved health and social outcomes. This work speaks to the comprehensive nature of supports that must be available to former Crown wards, and other disadvantaged Ontarians.