Like any young adult children, many foster kids aging out need help

On February 9, 2016 The Vancouver Sun published the following opinion piece by Mark Gifford, Director Grants and Community Initiatives at Vancouver Foundation.

We appreciate the work of journalists at The Vancouver Sun, and other publishers to raise awareness of these issues among their readers.

At first I couldn't believe it

At first I couldn’t believe it — 71 per cent of British Columbians agree that young people from foster care should receive a stipend to support their cost of living until age 25.

Public opinion research commissioned by Vancouver Foundation was unequivocal: there is a strong desire for changing the odds of success for youth in foster care. So why was I surprised at this outpouring of support?

I realized I may have some family baggage to check. Perhaps we all do.

I still lean on my parents for support with the big and little things in life. Sure, the mix of love, loans and learning exchanged through my family relationships has shifted over the years. But their investments in my childhood were followed by a bundle of investments during my 20s, and continue through today.

It seems I’ve been carrying around an invisible backpack of family privilege. However, for me its fullness actually takes a weight off my shoulders.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to the public opinion results, there is nothing like family when it comes to making it on our own. And for families with young adults in their 20s today, the significance of this relationship to financial, social and emotional well-being is paramount.

What we’re told:

• Over 92 per cent of British Columbia parents of 19-to-28-year-old adult children are providing them with a range of financial, social network and emotional supports.

• There is overwhelming recognition that growing up is a gradual experience (96 per cent) and that people in their 20s need the support of their families (90 per cent).

• Ninety-five per cent of British Columbians appreciate that the cost of living for young adults as increasing.

• The majority of us (66 per cent) believe young adults face tougher prospects than previous generations.

Let’s face it, as parents we want our kids to be financially independent and we want healthy, lifelong relationships. We may still grumble about the adult kids in the basement, but there is growing recognition that they are trying to make it in a world that presents the tease of abundance and a reality of much less opportunity.

The survey signals a shift from blaming young people for the state of affairs to questioning the state of affairs. We’re good parents. We’re good kids. We’re all trying our best with what we’ve got.

This experience has much to do with our changing appreciation for the needs of kids in foster care.

Unlike the gradual and well-supported transition to adulthood that our kids experience, young people who have grown up in foster care are on their own at 19. According to more and more of us, that’s wrong.

What’s driving this change in awareness?

Perhaps it’s the tragic headlines of Ashley, Paige and Alex.

Perhaps it’s the work of the Representative for Children and Youth, media and other independent advocates.

Perhaps it’s the rise of youth leadership within the foster care system and community work being done across the province.

Perhaps it’s just the facts. More of us know approximately how many children live in care, how many age out each year, the age of cutoff and the disproportionate risk of homelessness they face. And when we learn these facts, it bothers us.

Perhaps it’s all of this.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. In British Columbia, we’re ready to demand more for how the children we have taken into care are doing, and try to act a little more like family as they continue to grow up.

We may not have all the answers, but regardless of political stripe, region, age, ethnicity, gender, the vast majority of us want a plan of action that includes:

• A financial investment in youth from foster care until at least age 25.

• An emphasis on strengthening long-term relationships with caring adults, particularly through extended family, foster parent and cultural community networks.

There is much other work to do to help restore connections and reconcile the damage done to relationships with young people, families, and communities.

But we’re willing to work on that, too. It’s just what families, and communities, do.



Mark Gifford is director of grants and community initiatives at Vancouver Foundation and the Fostering Change Initiative. More information on this work or the poll conducted by InsightsWest can be found at www.fosteringchange.ca or www.vancouverfoundation.ca. Or reach the author on Twitter:@FosterChangeBC

    

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