The official Opposition is sounding the alarm over incoming changes that would sever supports for young Albertans who were formerly in government care at age 22 instead of 24.
The program in question is called Support Financial Assistance Agreement or (SFAA) and it is designed to help transition youth who have been involved with Child Intervention Services into adulthood.
The plan from the UCP government was announced in the fall of 2019, but the topic has re-emerged following the release of a new statistic by the NDP on Tuesday.
“We are now seeing that from April of 2020 to the end of November of 2020, the number of young people who are on this program who have died has increased dramatically,” said Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP critic for children’s services.
According to numbers released by the NDP, 10 young Albertans receiving supports through the SFAA program died between April 1 and Nov. 30.
“That figure is the same as the number of deaths reported for the entire 12-month duration of the 2019-2020 reporting period and is higher than any prior year reported publicly,” the NDP release said.
Pancholi says she’s been asking why the UCP want to make such a change since it was announced.
“We have not yet had a satisfactory response,” said the Edmonton-Whitemud MLA. “The best that we can decipher is really that this would save the provincial government $14 million to cut off these 500 young people and lower the age of eligibility for upcoming former foster children.”
Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz was not made available by the province for an interview, but in a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the minister said:
“Any death of a young person is heartbreaking, however, the data do not suggest at this point supports have been inadequate.
“For example, the vast majority of causes of death are pending or undetermined. We continue to monitor the situation closely, and Children’s Services will not hesitate to act if a larger trend does emerge.”
The changes were intended to come into effect in April, but were temporarily paused due to a court injunction in March. Pancholi says the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench agreed that the shift could have negative impacts on the young people it would affect.
“The cutoff of financial supports, but really also traumatically, they would lose the support of that social worker or case worker that’s been with them since they were a child,” Pancholi said.
The statement from the minister’s office responded to the claims from the Opposition, saying:
“Children’s Services has worked hard to ensure youth in care and their caregivers have the support they need.
“That is why we continue to support vulnerable young adults up to age 24 who were previously in care, through both the Supports and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAA) program as well as the Advancing Futures program, which provides full funding, including living expenses, for former youth in care to pursue post-secondary education.
“To ensure stability and consistency during this unprecedented time, we contacted all young adults in the SFAA program this spring to ensure they knew they were still able to access support and benefits.”
The spokesperson added that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the young people affected, and Children’s Services has ramped up supports for them during this time, saying: “allegations to the contrary are both dangerous and untrue.”