Youth who age out of foster care here face a high risk of addiction, homelessness, unemployability and teenage pregnancy.
“That’s been our experience,” said Kathleen Bennett, executive director of the Northwest Inter-Nation Family and Community Services Society, which provides child protection services to six Tsimshian Nations and the Haisla Nation.
It’s a bleak future, but the NIFCS is trying to help foster children currently under its care to avoid these personal catastrophes and asked for help from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign.
It has created a Keys To Transition program designed for children aged 12 to 18 to develop life skills they will need to thrive when foster care ends and they are on their own.
“They are in foster care now so they are being fed and physically looked after, but we are concerned about their social, emotional and intellectual needs,” said Bennett.
“These are the areas they need help with so they can be successful. We don’t want them just going on to social assistance.”
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for these children is they don’t have easy access to technology.
“Unfortunately, provincial foster care rates cover the bare minimum living expenses. Youth in care don’t have cellphones or laptops and this puts them at a disadvantage in an age where those tools are required for them to be equal to their peers, support online learning, social networking and career exploration,” she said.
Some foster children have access to computers in school, but some hardly attend school or have quit school, Bennett said.
“They are really struggling and need help. You need access to computers to do assignments, but you also can’t get a job unless you can use a computer. Without that skill you are not employable,” she said.
The only computers currently available to the youth are those used by staff in the Prince Rupert centre, but this isn’t the answer, Bennett said.
Adopt-A-School (AAS) has recently sent $12,000 to buy desktop and laptop computers for the program using a donation from Telus, which has supported AAS since the campaign began in 2011.
Telus vice-president of Corporate Citizenship Jill Schnarr said it was important to help the NIFCS program.
“Programs like Keys to Transition … are essential to providing youth with access to their peers, support networks, information, and opportunities that many of us take for granted,” said Schnarr.
“We believe that everyone deserves access to the internet, and we’re proud to support this local initiative to help youth build independence and confidence through the power of technology.
“We strive for social and digital equality in our all-connected world. We believe that enabling youth with the technology and skills they need to be safely connected is fundamental to their future success in the digital economy,” she said.
Telus backs up these sentiments with two programs – Internet for Good and Mobility for Good – which are aimed at preventing low-income families and vulnerable youth from being left behind as the digital age speeds up.
Internet for Good provides internet access for $9.95 a month to single-parent families receiving income or disability assistance. It was launched in 2016 and is helping 3,700 families in B.C. and Alberta.
Telus Mobility for Good is a collaboration with the Ministry of Children and Family Development in B.C., and with the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada in Ontario. It provides vulnerable youth and young adults aging out of foster care or government care with access to a free cellphone and data plan for two years with a subsidized plan after that.
It was launched last year in B.C., and has 300 participants and will be available in Ontario later this month.
Meanwhile, Bennett said the dean of Northwest Community College has offered the NIFCS virtual reality software used by science students but they need computers to take advantage of it.
“It’s an amazing resource. You can learn so much, so quickly. I have taken some children to the college to try it and it’s a fantastic tool for encouraging learning,” she said.
It was the youth who had aged out of care who alerted the society to the need for them to be better skilled in technology.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)