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Left behind: fostering better outcomes for youth in BC's child welfare system

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Children and youth exposed to the child welfare system represent one of society’s most vulnerable populations. Compared to their peer group, too many youth exposed to the child welfare system in British Columbia experience elevated rates of homelessness, substance use, incarceration, unplanned pregnancies, poverty and underemployment, and both mental and physical health issues in early adulthood. Given these disparities, child welfare policy reform is needed to better assist youth in care, rectify lagging outcomes and facilitate successful transitions to independence throughout the province. This study employed a mixed methodology using quantitative data from a prospective cohort of illicit substance-using street youth, semi-structured qualitative interviews and a literature review. Findings from the quantitative analysis found that youth with a history of being in care were more likely to: be of Aboriginal ancestry; have been physically abused; have a parent that drank heavily or used illicit substances; not have completed high school; and have initiated hard drug-use at an earlier age. A range of policy options were developed and informed by various stakeholder groups and evaluated against a set of criteria. The outcome of these evaluations indicate that a portfolio of policies, including the provision of greater resources to kinship caregivers and extending foster care to 21 years old will have the greatest impact on improving outcomes for former government care youth. Moving towards expanding and extending independent living programs was also identified as a promising policy approach to improve outcomes for youth transitioning out of care.
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