Foster care in Canada
Foster children in Canada are known as permanent wards, (crown wards in Ontario). A ward is someone, in this case a child, placed under protection of a legal guardian and are the legal responsibility of the government. Census data from 2011 counted children in foster care for the first time, counting 47,885 children in care. The majority of foster children – 29,590, or about 62% – were aged 14 and under. The wards remain under the care of the government until they "age out of care." This age is different depending on the province.
Different provinces have different regulations for the wards in their care. Many of the provinces also have third party groups set up to support both youth and alumni in and from care. These networks are not connected to the provincial governments
|Province||Rate per 1000* ||Percentage||Age of protection** ||Youth network|
|British Columbia||10.1||1.01%||19||Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks|
|Alberta||10.6||1.06%||18||Alberta Youth in Care and Custody Network|
|Saskatchewan||21.7||2.17%||16||Saskatchewan Youth in Care and Custody Network|
|Manitoba||24.4||2.44%||18||Voices: Manitoba's Youth in Care Network|
|Ontario||6.4||0.64%||16||Ontario Youth Communication and Advocacy Network|
|New Brunswick||9.0||0.90%||16||Partners for Youth|
|Nova Scotia||8.8||0.88%||16||Youth Voices of Nova Scotia Society|
|Prince Edward Island||5.3||0.53%||16||Prince Edward Island Youth in Care Network;|
*rate per 1000 youth in care
**Note: Children with disabilities are eligible for protective services until age 19.
Cases are filed though individual provinces Social Services departments. Cases are filed primarily for child abuse or neglect; child abuse is the physical or psychological mistreatment of a child by an adult. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment, and exposure to domestic violence. Neglect refers to situations in which a child’s caregiver fails to provide adequate clothing, food or shelter, deliberately or otherwise. The term “neglect” can also apply to the abandonment of a child or the omission of basic care such as medical or dental care. In 92% of cases, the child remains at home and is not in put in an Out-of-Home Placement.
The three most common categories for maltreatment are ‘neglect’ and ‘Exposure to intimate partner violence’ (witness of physical or emotional abuse) both tied at 34%, followed by physical abuse at 20%. Sexual abuse sits at 3%. Police statistics for youth under 18 show that youth, accounting for 21% of the Canadian population account for 21% of all physical assaults and 61% of all sexual assaults in Canada. In 71% of all police-reported assaults, the victims were between the ages of 12-17.
86% of the time, cases are filed against the biological mother.
- Victim of domestic violence – 46%
- Few social supports – 39%
- Mental health issues – 27%
- Alcohol abuse – 21%,
- Drug/solvent abuse – 17%.
A former youth from care is also considered to be the risk factor in 8% of cases.
There are several different types of out-of-home placements or care arrangements:
- Informal kinship: informal arrangement within extended family (ie.grandparent)
- Kinship foster care: formal arrangement within extended family (ie.grandparent)
- Family foster care(non-kinship): family-based care (family structure)
- Group home placement: group living, 24h staff on duty
- Residential/secure treatment: commonly referred to as “lock up”, these homes are for children that need extra therapeutic treatment.
Informal kinship 4%; Foster care (kinship & non-kinship) 4%; Group home/secure treatment 0% (rate of .25/1000 children)
Aboriginals in care
There is a severe over representation of Aboriginal youth in Canada's foster care system. Aboriginals account for 22% of all cases in Canada, yet account for only 3.9% of the Canadian population. Of all children in care, the percentage of Aboriginal children reaches 60% to 78% in some provinces. The federal government typically pays for child welfare services on reserves, while the provinces pays otherwise. Aboriginal children on reserves have access to valuable cultural resources but often suffer due to poverty, community isolation, lack of social services infrastructure and higher living costs. When an investigation is triggered, First Nations children are five times more likely to be investigated and 12 times more likely to be placed in foster care than non-First Nations children. Once in care, First Nations children stay in care longer than non-aboriginal children and are more likely to become permanent wards.
Child functioning concerns
While 54% of cases have no child functioning concerns, a wide range of categories for physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural issues may be exhibited by youth:
- Academic difficulties: 23%. Child has normal to above-normal intelligence, but has difficulties in one area. (i.e., reading or math)
- Depression/anxiety/withdrawal persisting almost daily for two weeks or more: 19%.
- Aggression: 15%
- Attachment issues: 14%. Child does not have physical or emotional closeness to the caregiver. It is difficult for the child to seek comfort, support or protection.
- ADD/ADHD: 11%
- Developmental disability: 11%
- Failure, not caused by organic reasons, to meet developmental milestones: 9%
- Self-harming behavior, self-mutilation (i.e. cutting) to suicide: 6%.
- Suicidal thoughts, from fleeting to detailed plan: 4%
- Running away from home on multiple occasions for at least one overnight period: 4%
- Inappropriate sexual behavior: 4%. Age-inappropriate behavior with toys, self or others; sexually explicit drawings or descriptions, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge, prostitution or seductive behaviour.
- Fetal alcohol syndrome: 4%
- Drug/solvent abuse: 4%
- Alcohol abuse: 3%
- Youth Criminal Justice Act involvement (charges or incarceration): 2%
- Physical disability: 2%
- Positive toxicology at birth: 1% positive for drugs or alcohol
- Other: 4%
Many children enter care with bad health; over 90% have medical needs ranging from minor skin conditions to severe neurological disease. Children in care experience twice as many chronic difficulties, such as poor eyesight and hearing, when compared to children outside of the system. Often, children in care have poor or undocumented history of immunizations. Children in kinship care exhibit fewer health problems then those in regular foster care. Advice on smoking, drug and alcohol use as well as safe sex practices are most often given only after the child was engaged in such activities.
Transitioning out of care
In a number of studies, youth who have aged out of the child welfare system have spoken of their experiences and highlighted areas where they could have been better prepared for their transition from care. They speak of the frustration of being “cut off” from the system once they reach their 18th (or 19th) birthday to fend for themselves, with limited life skills, financial support and support networks. The transition from care is alluded to as a process that may take many years, not an event triggered by a youth’s 18th (or 19th) birthday. In most cases, the youth were not emotionally ready to live independently. Youth living with their families don’t typically achieve independence until their mid- to late-twenties, whereas youth in care are “expelled” from the system at age 18, whether they are ready or not.
–Anne Tweddle in Youth Leaving Care Report
For youth aged 24 years from the general public, 15% did not complete high school, 13.8% are unemployed, 6.4% are pregnant or are an unwed parent, and 5.5% are on public assistance. For youth from the foster care system of the same age, 50% did not complete high school, 50% are unemployed, 60% are pregnant or are an unwed parent (among females), and 30% are on public assistance.
- Anne Tweddle, "Youth Leaving Care Report", September 2005
- National Post,"Census 2011: Canada's foster children counted for first time", September 19, 2012
- "Statistics", Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal, November 3, 2012
- "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)", Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal, November 3, 2012
- "Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect", November 1, 2012
- " Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2008", November 1, 2012
- Statistics Canada,"Population projections by Aboriginal identity in Canada", December 7, 2011
- CBC,"Foster children counted in Canadian census for 1st time", September 20, 2012
- "Looking After Children in Canada:Final Report", June 2000