Help for former kids in Manitoba care should be expanded to age 25: advocate

Manitoba urged to expand child welfare supports

WINNIPEG — The children’s advocate says the Manitoba government should look at supporting former permanent wards of the province up to age 25 instead of cutting them off at 21.

Darlene MacDonald told a legislature committee Monday that young adults who grow out of child welfare continue to need help as they advance their education, find jobs, get mental-health services and look for affordable housing.

She suggested some form of publicly funded housing with support services on-site.

“Whether it’s apartment buildings or whatever … they would have wraparound services so that a child, all their needs (could) be met — whether it’s a job, school or education,” she said.

“It wouldn’t necessarily have to be the child-welfare system as such. I certainly think that if we had good landlords for these children who would look at their needs and put in good resources for them, that would be very helpful.”

MacDonald, an independent officer of the legislature who speaks on behalf of kids in government care, pointed to Ontario’s recent move to increase its support cutoff to 25 from 21.

A report from the Ontario children’s advocate in 2012 estimated the move would save the province money in the long run.

For every extra dollar in support paid out, the province would recoup $1.36 over a child’s lifetime through extra income taxes, reduced demand for social assistance and a reduced likelihood of criminal activity and incarceration, the report predicted.

Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding said the government is already providing many services up to age 25 to people formerly in child welfare.

He cited one program which eliminates tuition fees for those attending post-secondary schools and another which provides employment and financial counselling.

“We are doing some of this work right now,” he said.

MacDonald is coming to the end of her term in the spring and a replacement has yet to be chosen. The province’s Progressive Conservative government has already promised legislation this spring to expand the advocate office’s powers to allow it to deal with areas outside of child welfare â€” justice and education, for example.

The government has also promised to give the advocate more powers to report publicly about children who die while in care.

“When the public just gets information saying ‘no comment’ or hasn’t been provided information … I think it does erode the confidence that people have in child welfare or in government,” MacDonald said.

“People have to be concerned with families’ privacy, but … we can talk about the steps that are taking place once a tragedy has happened, what steps a social worker would put in place to ensure that things are OK.”

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Canadian Press