The uncertainty, disruptions and isolation brought by COVID-19 have increased stress and anxiety for all youth, but even more so for young people in or transitioning out of foster care.
“Youth who are in or have experience of being in care face an uncertain future that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes the Youth In Care Networks. “No youth should age out of care, shelter or service in a pandemic.”
In BC, every year, about 1,000 youth “age out” of foster care when they turn 19. Many of these youth are left to fend for themselves, lacking necessary resources and never having been prepared for independent living at such a young age. By contrast, a 2016 Vancouver Foundation survey revealed that 92% of people across BC provide their own children with support after age19.
As a result of COVID-19, many young people transitioning from foster care have experienced confusion and fear, malnutrition, homelessness, abuse and illness, all-the-while having to figure out adulthood and independent living without consistent guidance and basic support. A closer look at these issues reveals that they can be largely prevented by providing all youth in our communities with a backbone of effective support.
The BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness noted COVID-19 has highlighted the extent of digital inequity in our communities. With everything moving online, youth without internet access have found themselves literally cut out of essential services and information, including job postings, rental housing opportunities, education, and mental wellness support.
Even those youth who have internet access are facing increased and novel risks. The rapid expansion of the online world is making it easier for predators to target youth who are not having their core needs met and are susceptible to abuse. Moreover, youth who have no guardians are not being educated on these new threats and taught how to remain safe.
During the pandemic, youth in care have also reported an increase in abuse, including sexual and domestic violence. Quarantines have locked some youth in unsafe living situations with service providers not able to connect with them. Lack of bridge income and/or housing has pushed youth to live in the streets or endure abusive housing situations.
COVID-19 has abruptly changed all normal services. This has been alarming and confusing to youth. “There is a need to focus on communications to help youth be informed about what is really happening and what services exist to help,” states the BC Coalition to End Youth Homelessness.
In short, COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for all youth and, most acutely, for youth in and transitioning out of foster care. We know that BC’s youth who have experienced foster care have tremendous talents, resiliency, unique perspectives and ingenuity. We can’t afford to let the pandemic take away this level of potential.
What we can afford is to smartly invest in the kind of backbone services and support systems that would enable our communities to fully leverage the tremendous, untapped potential of youth in foster care. Fostering Change has identified policy solutions that would ensure youth in care don’t hit a cliff when they turn 19. On a parallel track, the YWCA supports youth who are transitioning or have transitioned out of care through the YWCA Strive, a holistic life skills and employment program.
Alice Miro is on parental leave and volunteering for the YWCA. When not busy parenting, cooking or cycling places, she deploys a decade of experience in marketing, communications, governance and policy development to advocate for more equitable communities.
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.