A little over a month ago, our lives here in Canada started looking a lot different. In a very short time, we went from finding comfort in the predictability of daily life to needing to live in some degree of isolation in an effort to slow the spread of a virus and to protect the health of others whose immune systems are vulnerable. But there’s another form of vulnerability amidst this global health crisis that doesn’t get the attention or support it deserves.
For many fortunate Canadians, the pressures and stresses of job insecurity, financial strain, and homelessness are not at the forefront of their minds each day. Unfortunately, for young people who have aged out of the child welfare system, with no permanent family to rely on, these situations are often built into their reality even in the best of times. Add to this a worldwide pandemic and social distancing, and you end up with an extremely vulnerable group of young people struggling to have even their basic needs for food and stable housing met.
At Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, our aim is to improve the lives of children and youth involved in our country’s child welfare system. We’re fortunate to have the incredible support of our many donors and partners to be able to do this but, in the earliest stage of the COVID-19 crisis, we have prioritized youth who have aged out of care knowing that they need and deserve our special attention and care.
When youth who’ve been in the care of the child welfare system age out, at as early as 18 years of age, they lose access to the supports they received while in care. This population of young people is already at a higher risk of homelessness, poverty, and experiencing mental and physical health issues due to childhood trauma than their peers. Now, in a time of crisis, there is even more urgency to address the challenges and barriers that face these youth.
To give you an idea of just how critical this is, here are some examples of what we’re hearing directly from the young people we serve who have aged out of care:
“There’s just so much information out there. I don’t know if I’m just sick or have COVID-19. I wish I had a real adult in my life to call when I’m worried.” – ISAAC*, former youth in care
“I can’t get a job because everywhere is closed, my last job was cash pay so I can’t claim EI. Additionally, I’m in school and received OSAP at the beginning of the year so I am ineligible for Ontario Works. I have no means of paying my rent. I’m just hoping that it gets waived for the month of April. Any financial support possible would be greatly appreciated.” – AMBER*, former youth in care
*Names changed to protect their identity.
It’s for young people like ISAAC and AMBER, and the thousands of others like them across Canada, that we launched our COVID-19 Crisis Support Fund. The Fund is providing youth who’ve aged out of the child welfare system with grants of up to $1,000 to cover short-term needs while they explore government and other supports. To date, we’ve received more than 2,100 applications. This incredible early response is more than we typically receive for all of our programs combined in an entire year, which is indicative of the urgent need. Funds can be used to cover expenses such as rent, food, household supplies, mental health counseling, technology support, and other emergency needs.
The Foundation team is in regular communication with our agency partners across the country to stay up-to-date on what they are hearing about the complexities young people from care face and the decisions they are making in real-time on how to best serve them during this challenging time. I continue to be inspired by their innovation and how these agencies and our other partners are collaborating in the sector, including the formation of coalitions aligned on common goals, like advocacy and philanthropy. We are also speaking with government at all levels to keep them informed about the unique risks this population is facing despite the announced funding benefits and relief plans.
One thing that’s comforted me during this challenging time is the way Canadians are coming together in a variety of shows of gratitude, but also of compassion and empathy. This gives me hope that, as a nation, we show just how great we are by directing compassion, empathy, and even funds to those who are the most at-risk in our local communities: youth who have aged out of our country’s child welfare system. If you have the capacity to support our country’s most vulnerable youth, please consider making a gift to or fundraising for this Fund.
Valerie McMurtry, CFRE
President & CEO