Next week is the sixth annual B.C. Child and Youth in Care Week. Children and youth in government care includes young people living in foster homes, group homes, housing for youth with mental health and addiction issues, and custody centres. Our members work with these young people every day, and we want to celebrate their caring, compassionate, and dedicated service.
In their own words, children and youth in care are resilient, courageous, resourceful and accepting. They have been through challenging circumstances, and have found the strength to keep moving forward. Their talents and vision are assets that we, as British Columbians, cannot afford to waste.
But this week is also an opportunity to ask some tough questions.
First, are we ensuring that government care for a young person is based on the structures and resources necessary for the best possible outcomes? Or is the system more focused on the bottom line and a balanced budget? The government care system needs to recognize and promote the potential of our young people, and that may not always mean choosing the least expensive option in the short term.
Also, at what point does government care end for our youth? Currently, young people are cut off from government resources when they turn nineteen. As we have seen over the last few months, this abrupt end to all support can have tragic consequences. Families where children grow up with their parents don't cut off support to their children at nineteen – why should this happen in our child and family welfare programs?
What is being done to address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal children and youth in care? The BCGEU's Closing the Circle report has helped raise awareness of the issue, and Aboriginal leadership and the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, have been effective advocates for Aboriginal youth. But is enough being done at the ministry level?
Finally, are the families supporting our children and youth in care receiving adequate resources? Time and again we see families coping as best they can without the information and support they need.
The work of Turpel-Lafond and the BCGEU's Choose Children campaign have led the Ministry of Children and Family Development to commit to increased staffing for the sector, but there's still room for improvement.
It would be great to reclaim the word "foster". Instead of "foster children", we would like to see the system fostering potential, fostering talents, and fostering great futures!
BCGEU Choose Children reports: