Two youths say they hope the B.C. government will take steps to address root issues within the foster system after what they see as welcome first steps announced in the recently unveiled poverty reduction plan.
The B.C. government announced TogetherBC – the new provincial poverty reduction plan – in March this year, which included two points addressing the foster system: increasing rates for foster parents and increasing benefits for those attending college.
The former increase comes after a 10-year freeze on support payments for foster parents, and raises the rate paid out by nearly 20 per cent.
The latter change extends post-secondary benefits to the B.C. government’s agreement with young adults (AYA) program to summer months, in between semesters, and increases maximum benefits by up to $250 a month.
But the changes, while welcome, don’t solve the root issues with the foster system, say Jordie Lynn and Sev Weir, two youths with experience with the foster system and the tuition waiver program, who work with youth advocacy group FLOH (Foster system, Life promotion, Opioid dialogue, Harm reduction).
In particular, the two addressed the changes to the tuition waiver program, saying the outstanding issue is accessibility.
“There’s not a lot of room for youths to make mistakes, given the fact that most of us are legally adults, which kind of sucks, because not all of us have been taught proper money management,” Weir said.
Growing up in the foster system, or living on one’s own as a teenager, often means growing up without consistent role models to learn from and no supports to help fix mistakes as an adult. That can exacerbate a time of life that already can come with its own sometimes harsh learning lessons on self-management.
“I keep trying to go to school and part way through the semester, I have to drop out because I have a financial crisis and nobody will help,” Lynn said. “This is what I’ve been getting for the last couple of years over and over again.”
Weir said issues can start to compound – once a student misses a payment, everything seems to shut down. She couldn’t afford the $200 hike to her student fee that AYA wouldn’t pay for, incurring a hold on her student account. She couldn’t access her paperwork with the school because of the hold on the account. AYA won’t provide her with funding because she can’t produce her paperwork.
“There were a lot of times where I had to choose textbooks over food or something and then I put the food on my credit card, and I can’t go back to school until I’m out of debt, but I can’t get out of debt because I don’t have a bank account right now. It just starts to snowball,” Weir said.
Lynn and Weir said the ministry pressures young people to seek supports elsewhere, and cuts funding where they may get other sources of support.
Lynn said AYA only supported her for eight months out of four years of schooling because of the potential for support from her Indigenous band, which, in turn, was unable to support her financially. Meanwhile, Weir added that anyone on disability will have the amount in their disability pension cheques taken out of the AYA supports.
The new changes are “a good thing, but at the end of the day, I will be happy when we can get a cheque and not be afraid of what happens if there’s an unexpected cost,” Weir said.
The first thing the two would fix, they said, is the lack of support workers, which can often mean paperwork or other essential items get missed.
“That’s the first way that youth connect with the services,” Weir said. “There’s a really small portion of youth using [AYA], and that’s because it’s not accessible.”
Lynn said the one support worker for the region is based out of Surrey, and she would like to see at least one worker per city, noting that the current support worker is “insanely overworked,” which she said can make someone “callous towards youth.”
“That’s where a lot of these problems are coming from,” Lynn said. “The fact that these youth workers are starting to see us as work rather than people, because they’re so inundated.”