Before Ontario's provincial election last year, I posted about how I'd gladly support any candidate for Premier that would extend the the point at which children "age-out" of child protection services (Children's Aid Society, or CAS, in Ontario) from 16 to 18. I had some conversations this weekend that reminded me about why I think that's so important, so I'm blogging about it again.
In Ontario, unless a child in the CAS system is a crown ward when they turn 16, and therefore applies for a program called Extended Maintenance, they get pushed into a society that's void of protection services.
Yes, they're still eligible for social services within the children's system. But if they've ended up back in a house with abusive parents, or in another abusive situation, they don't qualify for child protection services anymore. Teens with disabilities don't qualify with adult protective services yet. They are in a no-man's-land until age 18. For a teen with disabilities, in an abusive situation...that's a hell of a long time.
Any teen can legally move out at age 16, yes. But the teens who don't have a place to go have a real problem. Education law in Ontario now stipulates that they need to be in school until they're 18. They must also be in school, and have someone trustworthy willing to act as trustee, before they can receive social assistance.
It's difficult to find these kids a place to go. They learn to survive however they can, either in the abusive home or as "couchsurfers" in other peoples' homes. I'm surprised by the number that actually manage that way.
I couldn't have made it on my own at 16.
Child Protection Services and Teens with Disabilities
If a teen faces the added challenge of living with one or more disabilities on top of having no place to go, that infinitely complicates matters. Entire teams of people representing multiple agencies can have difficulty finding a safe, appropriate place for the teen to go. I know - I've been on these teams.
Realizing that in that two years between 16 and 18, when child protection services in Ontario stop and adult protective services kick in, it's like moving a mountain to get a teen with disabilities in an abusive situation to a safe space has been...a source of disillusionment with working in social services.
Hence the Call to Action!
There's no reason why every child in Canada can't be assured of child protection services until age 18. In Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta, child protection services already go to age 18. In the Yukon and British Columbia, they go to 19. So here's what I want you to do.
If you live in Newfoundland/Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario or Saskatchewan, write a letter to your Member of Provincial Parliament. Tell him/her that children in your province need to be protected from abuse until age 18. Hell, I'll write and post a letter that people can send or email to their MPPs. Leave a comment or contact me if this is something that interests you.
People in the US...research when people "age-out" of child protective services in your state and see if there's a gap before teens with disabilities can access adult protective services. I'd be happy to write a letter for you, too.
Yeah, I feel strongly about this. These are our kids. They deserve as much safety and stability in childhood as we're capable of giving them. They deserve a chance.
Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal: http://www.cecw-cepb.ca/