Imagine being kicked out of your home and left on your own at the age of 18. You have no support system to help you navigate the ‘adult’ world. No income, no bank account, no way to pay for shelter and food, no means of transportation. You are alone.
According to the Ontario Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, approximately 17,000 of Ontario’s 3.1 million children are in care of Children’s Aid Societies or approximately 1 out of 182 children. Every year in Ontario, 800 to 1,000 youth age-out of care.
“Not surprisingly, some Ontario youth in care report feeling a deep sense of abandonment when they formally age-out of the system and anxiety about the impending lack of support after leaving care,” Jane Kovarikova, Exploring Youth Outcomes After Aging-Out of Care Report.
For 50 years, Thunder Bay Counselling has worked to help people enhance their quality of life by overcoming barriers and maximizing potential. As a not-for-profit organization, this has been achieved through numerous programs, spanning from mental health and addiction to financial counselling. Being deeply rooted in their community, the agency identified a gap in services for youth aging-out of care and set their wheels in motion.
April 1st, 2014 was a big day for Thunder Bay Counselling, as they welcomed their new Youth-in-Transition worker. With assistance from the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), the Youth-in-Transition Worker Program was developed.
This is a free program to help youth transition into a new life with the right confidence, skills and community connections.
Support workers assist youth ages 16-24 one-on-one to:
- Access health and mental health services
- Secure stable housing
- Obtain education and training information
- Connect to employment services
- Identify and access life skills support
- Locate legal services
A major part of the program includes financial literacy education. With an already established financial counselling program, the agency was well equipped to help youth build this essential life skill.
“We had our Financial Counsellor work closely with the Youth-in-Transition worker to adapt and re-build our financial literacy curriculum. They took into consideration varying needs such as developmental challenges. They made it interactive and engaging, incorporating videos, role-plays and movement,” explains Sheri Fata, Manager of Education and Support Services.
“The financial literacy skills the youth develop, allow them to qualify for and access monetary support from the Ministry.”
The monetary support referred to is the Ontario Child Benefit Equivalent (OCBE) provided at age 18 to youth-aging-out of care. To obtain these funds, youth need to demonstrate acquired skills outlined in the MCYS OCBE Savings Program Requirements Checklist. These skills include the capacity to determine and budget for living expenses, the ability to protect themselves against fraud, consumer awareness, understanding of ability to access banking and investments services, the ability to identify and access income sources, skills to write a resume, apply for a job, and more.
Thunder Bay Counselling has developed a formal agreement with Children’s Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay to help youth meet the required standards to obtain the allowance. The Child Protection worker makes the referral to the agency and when the agency has enough participants (5-8) they run the program.
“The program uses a combined format. We run 2 group sessions around the dinner hour and provide food. Then the youth meet with a worker one-on-one and do a budget for the money they will receive through the Ministry. They will be matched with employment services, complete a resume and set up a bank account,” says Fata.
“The amount of time this takes will vary. Some participants are very keen, while others require more assistance. We are there to support them regardless of the challenges.”
The challenges faced by youth-in-care are often more extensive and severe than we imagine. Just this past year Ontario has identified six places in the province which are described as “hubs of human trafficking”. One of these “hubs” includes Thunder Bay. Often the issues with human trafficking start with young people lured into the sex trade. Youth-in-care and the Indigenous population are especially vulnerable.
“It is an urgent government priority to support projects designed by Indigenous communities for Indigenous human trafficking survivors, many of whom are women and girls.” states Indira Naidoo-Harris, Minister of the Status of Women.
To date, Thunder Bay Counselling has seen 42 youth graduate from the Youth-in-Transition Worker Financial Literacy Program.
Although some may think this number is small, to Sheri Fata, every ounce of energy put into this program is worth it.
“When you consider the challenges, obstacles and dangers these youth face, 42 graduates is a huge accomplishment. These graduates are taking the first steps toward financial independence and acquiring skills that will empower them in the long term. Our youth tell us this makes a difference, and that’s really what motivates us to keep this training running.”
To learn more about the work Credit Counselling Canada members do in their respective communities please visit the Member Highlights section on our blog.
Thunder Bay Counselling is an independently operated, not-for-profit charitable organization and an accredited member of Credit Counselling Canada. Counselling, education and support services are provided by professional counsellors to help people make positive changes in their personal, family or work lives. To learn more about the programs offered through Thunder Bay Counselling please visit www.tbaycounselling.com