Kids who age out of foster care need ongoing support says study

Ivery Castilloux, 23, says he might have ended up living on the streets, or worse, had he not had support from Aunt Leah
Ivery Castilloux, 23, says he might have ended up living on the streets, or worse, had he not had support from Aunt Leah's Link program that helps young people from foster homes land on their feet after they've 'aged out' of government care.

Ivery Castilloux was teetering on the brink.

He'd just turned 19 and had no place to go.

A ward of the province who'd lived in 10 foster homes through his childhood, Castilloux was given a cheque by his support worker for $100 and told to go boldly forth into adulthood. He thought he needed to be perfect. He thought he had to map out every step of his future life and ambitions.

Because if he didn't he'd have nowhere to fall back.

It was, said Castilloux, overwhelming.

"I was scared of what would happen next," said Castilloux. "Everything was going downward."

In search of some assistance and encouragement, Castilloux returned to Aunt Leah's Place, a New Westminster-based organization that provides support to young people in care as they transition to the next stage of their lives. He'd been involved with Aunt Leah's Support Link program which provides supportive housing for young people aged 15-18 as they prepare for life on their own.

The social workers there were able to connect Castilloux with student loan programs at Douglas College so he could continue his education. They helped him find a place to live, get direction in his life.

Most importantly, said Castilloux, they lent an empathetic ear.

"That was a big transition," said Castilloux, now 23 and continuing his studies as he does some social media consulting for Aunt Leah's and develops his own pub crawl company.

Castilloux' story is the kind of anecdotal evidence of its success Aunt Leah's has relied upon to solicit funding for much of its 25 years.

Until Monday.

That's when a team of researchers from the University of Victoria. led by Dr. Deborah Rutman, released a study that compared the outcomes of young people in the foster care system who had access to Aunt Leah's Link program that helps them once they've "aged out" of government care to those who fended for themselves.

The results were startling, said Rutman, whose team interviewed 43 young people over a nine-month interval to measure their progress establishing their lives, getting housing, an education, a career, forging connections with the community and with others. They also talked to support workers and staff.

Rutman said 93 per cent of the young people in the study who used Link said their health was good, compared to only 67 per cent who were left to their own wiles. Another 64 per cent said their career planning and search for employment was going well, compared to only 40 per cent of those without support.

"We know youth are really struggling," said Rutman. "It's about one thing that leads to another that leads to another."

For youth without support, that's more likely to lead to homelessness, chronic unemployment, substance abuse, said Rutman.

Finally being able to quantify the stories Aunt Leah's staff have heard over the years is important to secure support for its programs, said its founder and executive director Gale Stewart.

"Now there's a conversation," said Stewart, who's been able to expand the Link program over the past five years with the help of funding from the Vancouver Foundation and the federal government. "Now we can be better advocates."

A representative for Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond of the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth who attended the release of the study said it takes a collective effort to ensure kids in care make a smooth transition into adulthood.
"We know these kids can't be alone," said Melanie Mark. "It's important to have relationships with someone who's not going to give up on you."

That kind of talk is cheap, said Castilloux. After all, he's living the benefits of having support programs once he left foster care.

"You have to go into adulthood, but you feel like a failure," said Castilloux. "The only thing I did wrong was turn 19."


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