The province announces $28 million for transitioning youth out of foster care, but critics say the program falls short
The UCP government is investing $28 million in a program aimed at supporting young adults aging outside of state care, but critics say the transition has been disastrous and programs are inadequate for those most in need.
The Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) was introduced last year when the province ended the Assistance and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAA).
This week, the province announced additional funding for TAP — $25.6 million from Children’s Services plus $2.5 million from Crafts and Professions.
“This is a life-changing program for youth in foster care and I am incredibly grateful that the 2023 budget includes $25.6 million over the next three years to help more youth and young adults make a smooth transition out of foster care create,” Mickey Amery, Minister of Children Services, told a news conference on Wednesday.
“We find that our young adults in transition have benefited significantly from this.”
A TAP beneficiary shared her journey from foster care to becoming a Red Seal welder after graduating from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Emilia St. Pierre said her foster mom is her biggest cheerleader, instilling confidence and encouragement in her and taking care of her son while she attended school.
“This new government initiative can help you succeed in life and find the career of your dreams,” St Pierre said.
“We don’t have to be limited by our past. And if I can do it, so can you.”
Amery said TAP has enhanced SFAA support by offering services that are specialized and more consistent to build successful, independent lives.
TAP financial assistance ends at 22, but non-financial assistance is available up to 24, including mental health and addiction support, healthcare services and access to social workers as part of a larger Youth in Transition program.
However, according to critics, TAP was unavailable because SFAA participants were cut off, and it has left behind those most at risk.
“They had no alternative program,” attorney Avnish Nanda said in a recent interview. “They developed the TAP program and it was an absolute disaster.
“It has … nursed, supported, led to independent, self-sustaining adulthood, homelessness, drug use, abuse, overdose, death in people who would otherwise have gone through the SFAA program.”
Three years ago, Nanda and his client, referred to as AC in court documents, filed a constitutional complaint after the province changed the SFAA’s age limit from 24 to 22.
They credited the SFAA with keeping AC off the streets and her daughter off of welfare while she focused on her education.
At the heart of the success, Nanda says, were the social workers, who often played the role of supportive parents that many never had, going so far as to offer meals, rides, home visits, or search for missing youth.
Under the new program, Nanda said his client was among the SFAA participants who were immediately referred to Alberta Works or Welfare
“She lost her social worker, her only ongoing emotional support since she was 9,” Nanda said. This put my client in such a difficult situation that she is now homeless. She has survived various forms of physical violence.”
Court documents show the government filed a motion arguing that the TAP program addressed concerns raised in the constitutional complaint.
Peter Smyth, a social worker who for decades oversaw programs for high-risk youth at Children’s Services, said TAP is more appropriate for youth in foster care than high-risk groups.
The reason, he said, is that the latter don’t have the support network that builds self-esteem, resilience and helps them face life or challenges.
“Implementing TAP without consulting youth, frontline workers or the community has harmed this population of complex and problematic youth,” Smyth said. “I heard that from all three groups. The young people feel betrayed and abandoned.”
Amery said his government is committed to working with young adults who are being released from care.
According to his ministry, out of about 1,400 SFAA participants, all but 18 switched to TAP. When asked by the CBC, the government did not provide figures on changes in homelessness or drug intoxication in the population.