$21M pledged to support students in care
Ontario will fund busing for students in foster care and group homes so they don't have to switch schools if they move.
Oct. 23, 2017
By Laurie Monseebraaten
Ontario will spend $21 million over three years on student transportation and other education support to boost outcomes for children and youth in foster care and group homes.
The money will help school boards pay for busing so kids in the care won't have to switch schools when they move. It will also help children's aid societies hire educational liaison staff to develop education plans and co-ordinate school and community supports to ensure these vulnerable children and youth reach their full potential.
"This funding will bring stability to students at a critical time that will enable them to focus on their education," Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement Monday.
"Students will also be able to maintain important relationships in school with friends, staff and educators, from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and beyond," she said.
The initiative, announced in Hamilton by Hunter and Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau, comes three years after an ongoing Star investigation showed more than half of the province's Crown wards had three or more unplanned school moves.
Child welfare experts have pointed to such moves as among the factors behind the troubling high-school dropout rate for youth in care which has been stuck at over 50 per cent for more than a decade. Meanwhile, fewer than 14 per cent of Ontario high school students fail to graduate after five years, a figure that has dropped from 32 per cent since 2004.
Former Crown ward Jane Kovarikova, 33, welcomed the change, as long as children have the choice.
"I think it would help a lot of children who are socially integrated into their schools," said Kovarikova, who attended four elementary schools and another five high schools, due to numerous moves in the foster care system.
Although she isn't sure the policy would have made her childhood any easier, Kovarikova said her younger brother "would have loved to have had the option to stay in his school."
"Now what I wish I would see with this policy is a plan to evaluate if it actually does shift high school graduation rates up," added Kovarikova, who has formed an advocacy group to push for evidence-based policy in child protection.
The office of Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth said young people in care have been demanding this change for decades.
"School can be a place of refuge for children and youth in care," said Trevor McAlmont, director of advocacy services for the office. Changing schools not only disrupts their education, but causes them to lose important social supports, friends, teachers and community, he added.
Provincial funding for school liaison is a signal to all children and youth in care, no matter where they are in their schooling, that we expect them, and will support them, to achieve their full potential, he added.
A provincial commission in 2012 noted schools are under no obligation to enrol a child or youth in care mid-way through the term, and found students were sometimes out of class for weeks when they were forced to switch schools.
A Brantford youth interviewed by the Star in 2014 said she wasn't allowed to start a new school until she signed a paper "promising to be a good kid."
Missing school is another barrier. Annual, government-mandated "Looking After Children" surveys known as OnLAC reveal a significant number of absentee days are due to CAS-related work: 15 per cent for meetings with child-care workers, 6 per cent for access visits from biological parents and 4 per cent due to completing the OnLAC survey. Appointments with mental-health workers were responsible for another 15 per cent of days off school.
New school liaison staff should reduce such school absences, a ministry spokesman said.
The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies (OACAS), which represents Ontario's 38 societies, said Monday's announcement addresses many long-standing concerns raised by the sector.
"We hope that it will specifically address the disruptions children in care experience in their day-to-day school lives that are the result of simply being in care," said Wendy Miller, senior manager of government and stakeholder relations, at OACAS.
The government is working with Indigenous partners to provide culturally appropriate services to Indigenous children and youth in care that support their educational success.
There are 38 children's aid societies and 10 Indigenous societies in Ontario. In 2016-17, there was an average of almost 14,000 children and youth in care.