Youth transitioning out of government care will get some good financial news on April 1, the date when the cost of living usually kicks up a notch as some government fees increase, such as B.C. Hydro rates and carbon tax.
Changes to the Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) program, which assists former youth in care who attend approved educational, vocational, life skills or rehabilitation programs, increase funding and add another year to the eligible age limit.
Starting next month, maximum monthly funding will increase from $1,000 to $1,250. As well, funding will be extended to cover the full calendar year instead of simply when school was in session.
In addition, the age limit for eligibility will increase by one year to include youth up until the day of their 27th birthday. This is the second increase of age eligibility in two years- it was capped at 24 years of age three years ago.
B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth said it’s a step forward, but the AYA program needs to be tweaked.
“Clearly it’s a positive move, but the ministry has to improve the way it manages these funds and the ways in which it supports youth aging out of care,” Bernard Richard told Global News.
“Certainly, I don’t want to be negative, I think overall it’s a positive development, but there is lots of work to do from my perspective.”
Despite the extra cash, Richard said it does for little for those living in areas where housing prices are soaring.
“Certainly the costs of housing is a big factor and that’s another issue that we hear a lot about. So that increase of about 25 per cent per year will certainly help in that regard. But likely, if you’re living in the Lower Mainland or Kelowna, it’s probably not even sufficient,” he said.
He also said he’d like to see the amount of time extended from two years to something a little longer and that only a fraction of those eligible for the program take advantage of it.
The issue of how best to serve young people transitioning out of government care has been a source of tension for years between the independent Children and Youth Representative office and the provincial government, especially under the former B.C. Liberal administration.
Former representative Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond was harshly critical of the former government’s performance on this issue, and current representative Bernard Richard lists the issue as one of his top three areas of needed improvement in the children in care system.
Under pressure from Turpel-Lafond, the former B.C. Liberal government agreed to waive tuition fees for young people transitioning out of government care at 11 post-secondary institutions, and last September the current NDP government expanded that waiver to include the province’s entire 25 institutions.
Roughly 900 young people age out of government care (once they turn 19 years of age) every year. The NDP government has promised to spend $30 million over the next three years to enhance and expand the AYA program.
–With files from Kyle Benning