Alberta urged to reconsider cutting off hundreds of young adults from financial support

Province says young Albertans leaving program will be set up with right support.

A current and former government employee in Children’s Services say adult programs don’t meet the complex needs of young adults transitioning out of the child intervention system. Adrienne Lamb CBC

Andrea Huncar, CBC News Edmonton July 21, 2021

A current and former government worker are urging the Alberta government to reconsider cutting off hundreds of young adults transitioning out of the child intervention system during a pandemic.

The employee, who CBC has agreed not to identify to protect her job, spoke out as she and her peers are being trained to move roughly 500 participants from the Support and Financial Assistance Agreement (SFAA) program.

She warned that the loss of benefits for the already traumatized and largely Indigenous youth could result in more deaths, homelessness, substance use, crime and unwanted pregnancies.

“The youth are not ready,” she told CBC News Monday. “This government is causing excessive hurt and suffering to countless lives, in order to shuffle monetary figures around in different ministerial portfolios to appeal to its supporters.”

Participants were initially told they would be eligible for benefits until they were 24. The UCP government reduced the age to 22.

An injunction delaying the change for nearly a year was overturned last January. In June the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application to appeal the decision.

Possible extension

An internal memo obtained by CBC notified workers of a briefing on Wednesday to implement the change.

“Caseworkers have begun internal training to help ensure no young adult is left behind and that they’re properly set up with the right supports and services,” Nancy Bishay, spokesperson for Children’s Services, wrote in an email to CBC.

She said they are eligible for an additional six-month agreement that could be extended if they are unable to connect to the right services.

But the current and former employee said adult programs don’t offer the guidance or emotional assistance needed by young adults lacking close family or the ability to self-advocate while facing multiple barriers like disabilities, trauma and systemic racism.

Since the change was announced in November 2019, the caseworker said little direction has been given as fearful clients spiral downwards — a situation made worse by the pandemic.

She said the government should allow 22- and 23-year-olds to remain in the program while new eligibility rules are applied to future cases.

“I call myself a government parent — that’s what we have become to them,” the caseworker said.

“These young people need as much time with us as possible. You’re dealing with a whole group of people who are not yet equipped to navigate the adult world.”

The injunction was initiated by a young single mother who argued that the change derailed a 6-year educational plan helping her to escape a cycle of violence and exploitation.

She is attending university to study social work in the fall as she challenges the constitutionality of the government’s decision.

Peter Smythe, who oversaw Children’s Services’ high risk youth initiative before retiring in May, described the decision as short-term thinking that will cost systems more down the road as it exacerbates a sense of abandonment.

“We look like we’re trying to get rid of them, it feels like we’re trying to get rid of them,” Smythe said. “They’ve grown up in our care, in our system. And I think we have a responsibility to care for them.

“The more you have a relationship, the more you can work with them and kind of gently nudge them forward and work towards goals.”

NDP critic for Children’s Services Rakhi Pancholi said cutting support endangers hundreds of vulnerable Albertans at a time when the province’s 18.1 per cent youth unemployment rate is the highest in the country.

“The hard truth is that most of these young Albertans will not find work and will fall into poverty,” Pancholi said.

Andrea Huncar Reporter
Andrea Huncar reports on human rights and justice. Contact her in confidence at Follow Andrea Huncar on Twitter. More by Andrea Huncar

Source CBC News Edmonton


Also see
Alberta chiefs call for minister to meet them to discuss racism in health care
Appeal dismissal puts Alberta young adults transitioning out of government care in limbo CBC News Edmonton
Province appeals injunction in fight over benefits for young adults leaving government care CBC News Edmonton
Province won’t cut benefits for young adults formerly in government care CBC News Edmonton
Appeal dismissal puts Alberta young adults transitioning out of government care in limbo CBC News Edmonton
Alberta government wins legal bid, but urged to take care when cutting benefits to young adults CBC News Edmonton
Family Support for Children with Disabilities Act PDF Government of Alberta
New app to help youth transition out of child welfare is effective, but can’t replace ‘face time’ Toronto Star

☞ Injunction stops hundreds of young adults from losing benefits as they transition from care
☞ MLA’s AISH experiment likely won’t change government’s mind, advocates say
☞ Leave AISH payments alone, Opposition and advocates tell Alberta government
☞ AISH date change made to make finances look better, auditor general says

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