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Coronavirus: B.C. youth in care to still get support after 19th birthday

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Teens in B.C. government care will temporarily no longer “age out” of the system and face the world alone on their 19th birthday during the coronavirus crisis.

The Minister of Children and Family Development announced on Monday that services will continue for kids in care after they turn 19, and that those who have recently aged out will get additional care.

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“During these uncertain times, youth deserve our steady, consistent support to help them through,” minister responsible Katrine Conroy said.

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“We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks, so we’ve taken emergency steps to ensure young people in and from care can continue getting the services they count on.”

Aging out of care has been a controversial issue in British Columbia, examined by both the watchdog, the Representative for Children and Youth, and the BC Coroners Service.

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A 2018 B.C. Coroners Service report found young people leaving government care died at five times the rate of the general population of young people in British Columbia.

The shift will provide extra stability and support for young people who would otherwise face trying to find a job and place to live on their own, having grown up entirely in government care.

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Youth living in foster care, with contracted residential agencies or with relatives through the extended family program will be able to stay where they are.

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The province is in the midst of working with social workers to modify agreements and allow youth and caregivers to extend their current living arrangements once a young person reaches 19 years old.

Young adults between the ages of 19 and 27 who are enrolled in the Agreements with Young Adults program will continue to receive financial support despite school closures and other training program interruptions.

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Youth who are nearing the end of an Independent Living or Youth agreement will be given options allowing them to continue receiving monthly living expenses past their 19th birthday.

B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, said she is “absolutely thrilled” with the province’s decision, adding that the continued support could help up to 600 youth who are either in care or on a youth-care agreement.

“They have done the right thing,” Charlesworth said. “At the best of times, (aging out) is difficult, and these are not the best of times.”

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Like most everyone else, youth who have aged out of the system cannot go find a place to live during a pandemic, she said, and work or schooling has been suspended.

The province should also work to provide extra support for children and youth with special needs, she added.

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“When you start to think about a lot of the kids we are concerned about, they receive a lot of supports through the school system,” Charlesworth said.

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“We are seeing a lot of calls that the therapeutic supports are not there, and that is going to stress families a lot. This is a time where additional supports for families are really critical.”