Prompted by dismal high school graduation rates for foster children who age out of the B.C. system at age 19, we started to examine what else happens to these vulnerable teens when the government cuts funding for housing, support services and a social worker on their 19th birthdays.
What we discovered was high rates of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, drug abuse and poverty.
Some youth were driven, on the day they turned 19, from their foster homes to a homeless shelter.
Our series compared practices in B.C. to other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and more than 20 U.S. states, where outcomes vastly improved after governments increased support, in some places up to age 25.
The Sun created, for the first time in BC, a cost-benefit analysis.
It showed supporting these youth to age 25 would actually save taxpayers money in the long run.
They would rely less on welfare; spend less time in jail, shelters and emergency wards; and would pay income taxes if given a chance to finish school and get a job.
In other words, if the government treated these vulnerable youth the same way most parents continue to help out children in their early 20s.
The series introduced Sun readers to a dozen young people who had aged out of the foster system.
They bravely shared stories of fearing the arrival of their 19th birthday, and the uncertainty of trying to navigate a fractured, complicated adult welfare system.
A few of the youth reached a relative level of success.
Others failed miserably.
Kali, for example, beat the odds by graduating from Grade 12, but within a year of losing his foster care support ended up on the streets.
He sold sex to support his new crystal meth habit.
Since the series was published, momentum for improved support beyond age 19 has grown:
- Ten B.C. universities and colleges are now waiving tuition for former foster children.
- The provincial government has introduced a series of changes to help former foster kids transition to adulthood, including trust funds for post-secondary education, work skills training, and a rent supplement program.
- In the last month alone, the province has announced 5 new programs totalling more than $1 million.
- Non-profits launched housing and other programs to help these youth.
- Several groups have backed the call for longer support, including Vancouver City Hall, B.C.’s representative for youth, and University of Victoria researchers.
We would like to thank the Michener Awards for this nomination, and our boss Harold Munro for his continued support of investigative journalism.