Former foster kids who can’t keep a job, who run into debt or find themselves out on the street may not have parents to turn to -- but the province hopes a new program unveiled Tuesday will get them the help they need to get back on their feet.
Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard told an audience of social workers and counsellors at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s offices in Winnipeg that the province is partnering up with a series of existing community services to create a new network for former foster kids.
Rates of homelessness and incarceration are higher among former foster children, who, when under provincial guardianship, are entitled to a home until they reach age 18.
The new two-year program, called Building Futures, will give foster kids from aged 18 to 25 access to money-management lessons, debt counselling, personal and general counselling, emotional support and employment training, and mentorship.
Most of those services already exist, so the program will simply co-ordinate them so foster kids can tap into them faster. The program is estimated to cost about $230,000 over the first two years.
The Canadian Mental Health Association will co-ordinate the network and kids at age 18 will be given business cards with the name and contact information of a "youth-service navigator" at the Winnipeg office of the CMHA to set up a suite of services they’ll need.
"This is a program that involves the use of services that already there; it’s about using them in a different way," Howard said.
Studies have found that incarceration and homelessness rates are higher for foster children than for children raised at home with parents.
Until age 18, foster children are legally entitled to care from the province, under temporary or permanent guardianship. About 500 foster children will age out of care in the next three years.
At age 17, provincial services step in to help foster kids find a place to live and a work to put food on the table, but advocates believe there is a need for more constant advice.
Manitoba already provides some support for children aging out of the child welfare system by covering all living expenses if they are pursuing a college or university education. That includes housing, textbooks and meal plans up to age 21. Some 500 former foster children sign up for that program each year.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters is eager to recruit former foster kids who have become successful adults to act as mentors for foster kids now, spokespeople at the press conference said.