Provide living expenses for foster kids turning 19, researcher says

This article by Roshini Nair originally appeared on CBC on 19 Sep 2016.


A new study says it's better to provide youth 'aging out' of foster care with living expenses — rather than funding remedial measures later on.

Simon Fraser University economist Marvin Shaffer, one of the lead researchers on the study, said part of the problem is foster youth are thrust out of the system without the support needed for a stable transition into adulthood.

Shaffer argues many youth in British Columbia aged 20 to 24 still live at home and rely on financial support from their families.

Foster youth don't get this type of support, and often end up struggling to survive on limited means.

"There are a lot of challenges for these youth and they need the kind of support that other youth get."

Create a basic support fund

Shaffer recommends the government create a support fund that provides resources for basic living costs — about $15,000 to $20,000 per year until age 25.

He calculated the monetary figure using cost of living calculators for a student going to university. Shaffer said the total is a basic living cost which allows for some modest earnings.

Another important component, he said, is to increase funding for youth mentoring services that can help young people find housing and help with basic life skills.

"The supports that are out there just aren't adequate," he said. "All they need is a basic package of living supports and a place to go to help with living skills."

Cost effective

Compared to other youth, Shaffer said foster youth aging out of care tend to be less educated, have higher unemployment rates, more interactions with the criminal justice system, increased reliance on social assistance more mental health issues.

He estimates these outcomes cost the government up to $260 million per year.

A basic support fund, however, would only cost the government $57 million per year.

"We're not saying all of those costs would disappear as these are very challenging areas," he said.

"But we think there could be significant improvement."

He said the funding would allow youth to complete more education, secure housing, and reduce reliance on income assistance. 

"We want to provide so that these youth have similar opportunities [as everyone else]."

The study was a joint initiative by the Vancouver Foundation and Simon Fraser University.