Youth aging out of care

man on grey background

Students need supports beyond age eighteen

Children and young people enter care when their living situation is not suitable for their growth and development (Tweddle, 2005). Consequently, the government takes legal custody and protection over children and determines their next living arrangement. Examples of the different living arrangements include but are not limited to community group housing, foster care, and institutional care (Sansone et al., 2020). Youth often leave their own homes as a result of neglect and abuse that takes place in physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual forms. Other issues that remove children include structural challenges such as poverty, and overcrowded and unsafe housing (Fallon et al., 2021). It is notable to discuss how class, gender, and race interact in the child welfare system. There is plenty of scholarship on the overrepresentation of the Black and Indigenous families in the child welfare system.

For example, Black youth are more likely to be targeted than their white counterparts and brought into child welfare (Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, 2015; Putnam-Hornstein et al., 2013). Child welfare reports are more likely to be conducted on Black, Indigenous, and racialized families because of racial discrimination that stems from damaging stereotypes and assumptions of people of colour (Antwi-Boasiako et al., 2022b). In its report One Vision One Voice, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) explores the systemic forces that bring Black families into contact with child welfare authorities (OACAS, 2016). The report provides the perspectives of families and community members on how anti-Black racism operates at institutional and individual levels (OACAS, 2016). It explores the impacts of child welfare involvement on Black families and makes recommendations on how to integrate an anti-Black racism lens throughout the child welfare system.

Canada’s history of inequality and discrimination, coupled with its colonial legacy severely affects reasons why youth enter into care, and disproportionately affects their journey aging out of care (Bonnie & Facey, 2022). The term “Aging out” is used to describe the release of a young adult from the child welfare system at the age of majority. The province or territory sets the age of majority where the youth resides. Approximately 10% of youth are aged out of the welfare system yearly (Doucet, Greeson, & Eldeeb, 2022). Youths encounter many difficulties and risk factors when transitioning out of the Canadian welfare system. These risk factors include lack of support before, during and after transition, as well as through unemployment and mental health issues. Black youth in particular, are prone to remain in care longer and receive less service and programs that would help them transition out of care (Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, 2015). However, protective factors can also increase the positive outcomes of transitioning out of the systems, such as implementing programs that aid in self-identified issues, thereby increasing the resiliency of the youth.

Risk factors

When the foster care system releases youth, they are at a higher risk of facing challenges than their counterparts. Youth aging out of care are susceptible to physical, emotional, and cognitive difficulties (Jones et al., 2015). These challenges include but are not limited to early pregnancy, chronic substance use, mental health issues, poverty, unemployment, and limited education. There is a disproportionate use of street drugs among youth aging out of care. When youth are involved in street activity, they are subject to crime, homelessness, and substance addiction (Schaffer & Anderson, 2016). Black children are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. In schools, Black children have higher delinquency rates than their white counterparts (Barth et al., 2020). Immigration, marginalization and racism also contribute to these socio-economic challenges that youth face (Antwi-Boasiako et al., 2022a). Also, these youth experience the transition into adulthood at a faster rate which can affect their ability to self-focus and build their own support system to help them in adulthood (Doucet, Greeson, & Eldeeb, 2022).

In addition to these challenges, these individuals also have the sustained issues of the trauma and maltreatment left behind by the welfare system (Daining & DePanfilis, 2007). Some of the most significant challenges youth have focused on have been the lack of emotional and social support. While their cited successes include surviving while fulfilling adult responsibilities such as managing bills, securing safe living spaces, and parenting, the necessity to be independent negatively affects the ability of the youth to develop and sustain supportive relationships. Many youths do not understand that their accelerated transition into adulthood, causing their hyper-independence, can affect them in building support systems (Goodkind, Schelbe, & Shook, 2011). The burden of these challenges and mental health issues contributes to the severely high rates of premature loss of life amongst youth (Schaffer & Anderson, 2016).

There is also a lot of misinformation or misunderstanding surrounding the transition out of youth who are unaware of the services and support that is available to them. Some youth are unaware that they can continue to receive support and assistance from the system after the age of majority. There are a number of reasons for these misunderstandings; for instance, some youths feel forced out, some do not understand the requirements they have to fulfill to stay in the system, and some youths are not sure where they stand with the welfare system (Goodkind, Schelbe, & Shook, 2011). With the lack of access to resources, many youths do not feel capable enough to succeed independently. Not having adequate support during their transition can hinder positive outcomes.

Factors that increase positive outcomes

Few studies are available to describe what factors can cause positive outcomes among transitioned youth. However, studies explore the youths’ self-reported service areas that may help in the successful transition from the system to adulthood and increase resilience. These service areas include but are not limited to money management, employment, education, and housing. Likewise, these services facilitate the preparation for independent living, the transition process, and the beyond. Independent living programs can improve specific outcomes pertaining to the areas of housing, education, and employment (Daining & DePanfilis, 2007).

Culturally-based interventions are particularly helpful in increasing positive outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth in Canada. For example, Indigenous communities have alternative approaches to well-being that are different from Western ways of living and thinking. Having programs that adopt indigenous principles not only respects Indigenous cultures, but acknowledges the validity of their knowledge and ways of healing (YouthREX, 2020). Cultural interventions are crucial to support the cultural and spiritual development of youth. Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth need specific services that cultivate safe environments where they can explore and connect with their identities (Stewart, 2018).

Some factors can increase the resilience of these youths. For instance, the age at which youth leave care can affect their resilience; older youth may do better than their younger counterparts in the system. Also, youth who receive support from friends and family and have spiritual support are more resilient than those who do not. Implementing programs within the foster and welfare care systems that cultivate and encourage resiliency can aim to circumvent the impact of the risk factors faced but transitioning youth (Daining & DePanfilis, 2007).

In 2018, the provincial government increased the age of protection in Ontario to eighteen years old. As a result, youths aged sixteen and seventeen can reap the benefits of the Voluntary Youth Service Agreement. Likewise, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds are eligible for the full suite of child protection services. If necessary, youth can also have an out-of-home placement in the voluntary youth service agreement. The Continued Care and Support for Youth (CCSY) program is another resource for youths aged eighteen to twenty offering financial and non-financial support for those aging out of care. In addition, there are also transition and life skills programs targeting youth between sisxteen and twenty four to transition successfully (Support for youth in the child welfare system, 2023).

Where do we go from here?

While many risk factors negatively affect our transitioning youth, there are programs that help prevent the adverse effects to the transition. There is much work to do for youth to ensure that this vulnerable group of individuals can overcome the difficulties set out before them and increase their resiliency. Ensuring that youth continue to participate in the services and programs available may be vital in their successful transition to adulthood by equipping youth with the necessary tools and knowledge. More research is needed in this area to ensure our youths’ safe arrival into adulthood from our welfare systems.

Works Cited
Antwi-Boasiako, K., Fallon, B., King, B., Trocmé, N., & Fluke, J. (2022a). “Addressing the overrepresentation of Black children in Ontario’s child welfare system: insights from child welfare workers and community service providers.” Child Abuse & Neglect, 123, 105423.
Antwi-Boasiako, K., Fallon, B., King, B., Trocme, N., & Fluke, J. (2022b). “Understanding the overrepresentation of Black children in Ontario’s child welfare system: perspectives from child welfare workers and community service providers.” Child Abuse & Neglect, 123, 105425.
Barth, R. P., Jonson-Reid, M., Greeson, J. K., Drake, B., Berrick, J. D., Garcia, A. R.,… & Gyourko, J. R. (2020). Outcomes following child welfare services: what are they and do they differ for black children?. Journal of public child welfare, 14(5), 477-499.
Bonnie, N. & Facey, K., with support from King, B., Fallon, B., Joh-Carnella, N., Edwards, T., Kagan-Cassidy, M., Black, T., Patrick-Drakes, V., & Anucha, C. (2022). “Understanding the Over-Representation of Black Children in Ontario Child Welfare Services.” Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect-2018. Toronto, ON: Child Welfare Research Portal.
Daining, C., & DePanfilis, D. (2007). “Resilience of youth in transition from out-of-home care to adulthood.” Children and Youth Services Review, Vol.29 (9), p.1158-1178.
Doucet, M. M., Greeson, J. K., & Eldeeb, N. (2022). “Independent living programs and services for youth ‘aging out’ of care in Canada and the U.S.: Asystematic review.” Children and youth services review, Vol.142, p.106630.
Fallon, B., Lefebvre, R., Trocmé, N., Richard, K., Hélie, S., Montgomery, H. M., … & Soop, S. (2021). “Denouncing the continued overrepresentation of first nations children in Canadian child welfare: Findings from the first nations/canadian incidence study of reported child abuse and neglect-2019.
Goodkind, S., Schelbe, L. A., & Shook, J. J. (2011). “Why youth leave care: Understandings of adulthood and transition successes and challenges among youth aging out of child welfare.” Children and youth services review, Vol.33 (6), p.1039-1048.
Jones, T., Mitchell, M., & Renema, S. (2015) “Will I make it on my own? Voices and visions of 17-year-old youth in transition.” The Journal of Child Adolescent Social Work, 32, 291-300.
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (2015). Race matters in the child welfare system. Toronto, ON. Retrieved from Project-August-2015.pdf
Putnam-Hornstein, E., Needell, B., King, B., & Johnson-Motoyama, M. (2013). “Racial and ethnic disparities: A population-based examination of risk factors for involvement with child protective services.” Child abuse & neglect, 37(1), 33-46.
Sansone, G., Fallon, B., Miller, S., Birken, C., Denburg, A., Jenkins, J., Levine, J., Mishna, F., Sokolowski, M. and Stewart, S. (2020). “Children Aging Out of Care.” Toronto, Ontario: Policy Bench, Fraser Mustard Institute of Human Development, University of Toronto.
Schaffer, M. & Anderson, L. (2016). “Opportunities in transition: An economic analysis of investing in youth aging out of foster care. Fostering Change.” Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from original/1474042096/Fostering-Change-Opportunities-in-Transition-Report-Summary.pdf?1474042096
Stewart, S. (2018). “Supporting Indigenous youth experiencing homelessness.” In Kidd, S., Slesnick, N., Frederick, T., Karabanow, J., Gaetz, S. (Eds.), Mental Health and Addiction Interventions for Youth Experiencing Homelessness: Practical Strategies for Front-Line Providers (89-100). Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.
Support for youth in the child welfare system. (2023, 03 06). Retrieved from
Tweddle, A. (2007). Youth leaving care: How do they fare?. New directions for youth development, (113), 15-31.
Youth Research & Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX). (2020). Four Promising Practices to Support Indigenous Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Toronto, ON: Author.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.