How a Toronto couple is standing up for kids – now and for generations to come

Bill and Susan

When Bill Butt first learned about the extraordinary challenges faced by young people raised in the child welfare system, his first reaction was anger.

“What struck me most was that kids growing up in government care are forced to fend for themselves as soon as they age out of the system – sometimes as young as 18,” says Bill, a father of two and the former global head of investment and corporate banking at BMO Financial Group. “It’s extraordinarily unfair.”

Quickly transforming his anger into action, Bill started volunteering with Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, the country’s only charity dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

First joining the Foundation’s Board of Directors, he soon became co-chair of the Foundation’s Stand Up for Kids: Futures Transformed campaign. Through this work, Bill has helped raise $75 million for the campaign, which has a mission to rally Canadians from coast to coast in support of vulnerable children and youth. The campaign’s newest goal is $100 million.

Bill and his wife, Susan Quigley, are also regular donors to the Foundation – including funding two annual scholarships and providing ‘undesignated’ support, which enables the organization to address the greatest priority needs of the young people it serves.

Bill says that the more he’s learned about the barriers standing in the way of kids growing up in care, or those who are at risk of coming into care, the more determined he is to help make a difference.

“Kids in care face incredible obstacles to success. If our support can help even one young person who is struggling, it’s all worthwhile.”

Those obstacles are both numerous and wide-ranging.

Approximately 59,000 young people across Canada are living in government care – foster homes, institutional settings or with extended family members – as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Studies show that kids raised in government care are significantly more likely to experience negative outcomes in all facets of their lives, from education to health to socioeconomic stability.

In Ontario, for example, just 46% of young people involved with the child welfare system graduate from high school – compared to 83% of their peers from permanent families. Children that have experienced childhood trauma are also more likely to develop serious diseases in adulthood.

When young people “age out” of the system – meaning they’re required to leave government care the moment they’re legally considered adults – these challenges are further compounded. Without support, youth from care are 200 times more likely to experience homelessness, and they’re much more likely to experience long-term unemployment and poverty.

Every year, thousands of young people age out of the child welfare system and face the overwhelming prospect of figuring it all out on their own.

“Learning about the process of transitioning out of care was really a lightning rod for me,” says Bill. “Who is standing up for these kids?”

Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is working hard to advocate for the needs of youth leaving care and its other two priority populations – children and families at risk and young people living in government care. Working with its national network of donors and stakeholders, the Foundation funds, co-designs and delivers a wide range of evidence-based programs and engages with governments to influence policy and funding changes.

But the child welfare system is deeply complex, and the road to systemic change – and a future in which families receive the support they need so that no child has to be removed from their home – is a long one.

Knowing that the need will continue to be great for many years to come, Bill and Susan made the decision to include Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada in their Will through a bequest, which they set up with the help of their lawyer.

Bill, whose father passed away suddenly at age 49 without a Will, is passionate both about the opportunity to continue creating impact after his death and about the importance of having a Will in the first place.

“Having a Will is crucial for your family’s well-being when you’re not around, but it also forces you to plan and think about what’s important,” he says.

“And what’s important to us is using our resources to make a difference for others.”

Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is deeply grateful to Bill Butt and Susan Quigley for their generosity and for sharing their story. To learn more about how you can join Bill and Susan and stand up for kids by creating a legacy gift in your Will, please contact Jane Durno at [email protected] or 416-923-0924 ext. 232.