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Indifferent parents--us.

"A small child you carry on your arm and a grown one you carry on your head," so says a Yiddish folk saying. These words remind us that most parents keep their children in mind long after their offspring have passed the legally mandated age of parental responsibility. Certainly, this is true except for the most indifferent of parents and the most indifferent of all parents appears to be our provincial governments that fail the young people in the foster care system.

As young adult children make their way in the world, concerned and sensitive parents try to help them as much as possible without compromising their offspring's sense of autonomy. Because of this, most young adults in Canada have a continuing connection with their parents well into their adult lives.

At the very least, young adults find emotional support, encouragement and mentoring from their parents. In difficult situations, parents provide a shoulder to cry on. It is what even the poorest parent can afford to do.

Material assistance by parents is often offered in many situations. This is reflected in statistics that show that almost half of all persons in their 20's still reside in the parental home, either permanently or temporarily. Where problems arise, many parents help out financially with loans or gifts to help tide young people through stormy times.

Most students in colleges and universities, however hard they work at part-time jobs, receive some material assistance from their parents. When young adults run into trouble with the law or they become parents at an early age, most have a parent to offer a helping hand, that is if they are not indifferent parents.

Provincial governments are in loco parentis for more than 76,000 children (Child Welfare League of Canada estimates) who are Crown wards. These children come into their care because the parents have abused, or neglected them or are unable to care for them because of ill health, disability or death. They are cared for in foster homes, group homes or in other arrangements. A sizable bureaucracy of social workers, lawyers, health personnel, and other staff is empowered to look after their needs.

The provinces are supposed to see to the health and well being of their charges but when the magical age (18 or 19 years) arrives, the young people are completely on their own. Like an indifferent parent, the province says good-bye and good luck and then forgets about them. What happens then?

Research into this question gives us some disturbing answers. As compared with other people in the same age groups, the former wards of the Crown have lower than average rates of educational and vocational attainment and income; they are more often unemployed, dependent on public assistance, and homeless. They have higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse and are more likely to be involved with the justice system.

They are also more likely to be single parents and involved with the child protection system, producing another generation to be raised and then ignored in the same way as they themselves have been.

At some point about 20 years ago, our provincial governments embarked on modest programs to test ways to assist young people aging out of foster care. These modest programs offered the former wards advice and guidance on dealing with their newly adult lives. Then these efforts stopped abruptly. What happened?

The penny pinchers took over social policy and programs. The Common Nonsensical Revolution decreed that these young people were no longer the responsibility of the Crown and that they had no legal right to any further assistance. No one was willing to spend a tax-payer dime on this group of young people. Since this group is neither organized nor politically influential, their interests could be conveniently and coldly ignored.

Ignoring this issue is fraught with a host of practical problems that not only cost us more money in the long run but is plain morally wrongheaded. We should be prepared to offer these young people all the assistance and counsel that a concerned parent would be prepared to give. At the very least, a sympathetic ear.

We raised these young people and they are still our offspring. We should reinstitute and reinvigorate the programs that will assist them to become functioning and contributing adult citizens. It's the least we can do.
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Title Annotation:provincial government's duty in foster care
Publication:Community Action
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 20, 2008
Words:724
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