Written by Jocelyn Helland

If we want to end youth homelessness, we must listen to youth in the child protection system.

The intersection between child protection and youth homelessness is a strong one. It’s a reality Eva’s witnesses as we work with young people every day, and it’s confirmed by the research. The 2016 National Youth Homelessness Survey found that 57.8% of young people who became homeless had some kind of involvement with child protection services. On average, they were involved with child protection at age 8.5, and one third of them were involved before the age of 6 (Gatez, O’Grady, Kidd, & Schwan).

Last week, major changes to Ontario’s child protection laws were announced at Covenant House in Toronto. Young people who had experienced the child protection system first hand were there, along with decision makers like Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman and Minister of Child and Youth Services Michael Coteau. They addressed the major changes this new legislation will bring, including raising the age of protection from 16 to 18, offering more preventative help to youth and their families, better accountability for children’s aid societies, and making services more culturally appropriate for Black youth.

For years, youth and the people who work with them have challenged our province to listen to the voices of those who have been through the child protection system.

These changes are necessary and exciting. For years, youth and the people who work with them have challenged our province to listen to the voices of those who have been through the system. They’ve highlighted the gaps and concerns they’ve experienced. They’ve pointed out that some youth have had a harder time getting appropriate, respectful supports because of the discrimination they’ve faced. They’ve shown us where the system can be improved and what resources would make a positive difference in their lives.

At Eva’s, we’re excited about these changes. We hope fewer young people will fall into homelessness as a result, and more young people will get the care they deserve as human beings with upheld human rights. While these child protection reforms will help reduce youth homelessness, it’s also important that we improve supports for youth and families with respect to issues such as affordable housing, poverty, and mental health. Above it all, a strong accountability framework will be necessary to ensure young people get and stay housed. Finally, we know that more space must be opened for young people to have a say in the systems, services, and laws that so intimately impact their lives—not only on a provincial level but also on an agency level, including our own organization. We’re committed to continuing to learn and work for that.

About the Author

Jocelyn Helland is the Executive Director of Eva's Initiatives for Homeless Youth.

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