Investing longer in teens leaving B.C. care would more than pay for itself

This article by David P. Ball originally appeared in Metro on 19 Sep 2016.

You have to spend money to make money, and that adage may apply to foster care as much as it does to business, according to a new study.

For the nearly one thousand 19-year-olds who “age out” of B.C. foster care system every year, an economic report released Monday has found that spending just $57 million in supporting those youth until age 24 would more than pay for itself — and potentially even save taxpayers nearly five times that amount.

Several deaths of B.C. youth soon after they aged out of government care, as well as disproportionate rates of homelessness and addiction, have drawn sharp criticism of the province’s children’s ministry in recent years.

“We’re not saying that by investing $57 million we’re guaranteed to wipe out the $268-million costs,” study co-author Lynell Anderson told Metro in a phone interview. “We don’t want to raise expectations or suggest more than is possible — some of the young people coming out of government care may have very significant disabilities … But

we are saying that for a relatively small investment, we could significantly improve outcomes and more than cover the current costs

Anderson, a family policy researcher and accountant, wrote the study with lead researcher Marvin Shaffer, a Simon Fraser University economist.

The Vancouver Foundation-funded study concluded that frequently “adverse outcomes” for those teens currently cost taxpayers between $222- and $268 million a year, including the costs of homelessness, hospitalization, family interventions, substance abuse, mental health crisis response, and more.

By contrast, improving and extending support for such British Columbians for five years would cost $1,375 a month for each young person. Over five years, that totals $200,000 per youth.

Anderson emphasized that such a large figure need be viewed in the context of what taxpayers are currently on the hook for.

The findings echo years of calls by B.C.’s Representative of Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, to extend foster care to 25 for youth taking post-secondary studies.

Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Children and Family Development, announced a review of aging-out policies last year, but maintained that youth remain in provincial care only to 19, and that supports already exist for some post-secondary students.

“Most parents are providing a range of supports for their children beyond the age of 18 and 19,” Anderson argued. “That’s the reality of today’s cost of living and of post-secondary education today. So for young people in care, it’s not surprising that they need the same kind of support to be successful — in order to thrive.”