Youth transitioning out of care
In September 2016, WoodGreen received a one-year Seed Grant from Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to design and develop an evidence-based model to improve outcomes for youth transitioning out of care in Toronto.
Over the course of the project, staff in WoodGreen’s Strategy & Innovation team spoke with 60 young people with lived experience of the child welfare system and held 5 focus groups at WoodGreen, Covenant House Toronto, The 519 Community Centre, Sherbourne Health Centre, and Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre. The project team also met with more than 200 sector stakeholders from 52 organizations across Canada, and held 6 focus groups with staff from the local children’s aid societies as well as WoodGreen’s Rites of Passage. Through this deep engagement process, young people and sector stakeholders identified a number of key areas of need for youth transitioning out of care:
- More safe, affordable housing
- Greater access and support for education and employment
- Increased physical and mental health supports
- More meaningful relationships and community connections
- Investment in community-based programming and supports specifically developed for this population
- Alternative solutions for youth in contact with the law
"When I left care I felt like I was lost. I didn’t know where to go. Where I would get housing, furniture, child care, and food? I had to do everything on my own."
To keep the voice of young people at the core of the program development process, WoodGreen launched a Youth Transitions Advisory Council (YTAC), made up of 10 young leaders all of whom have lived experience of the child welfare system. WoodGreen also partnered with Covenant House Toronto as a key advisor in the development of this new program.
WoodGreen held a Youth Transitions Symposium where members of the YTAC performed and spoke about their experiences growing up in care and their visions for the future. Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children & Youth also offered remarks and the WoodGreen team shared their findings and released a report that can be found on the WoodGreen website.
In spring 2017, WoodGreen was selected to be a national demonstration site for Housing First for Youth Leaving Care, part of the federally funded “Making the Shift” project led by A Way Home: The National Coalition to End Youth Homelessness and the Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab housed at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. This demonstration fits within WoodGreen’s plans to launch a wrap-around program with a continuum of housing supports, grounded in the Housing First Framework for Youth, to support young people leaving care in achieving their self-articulated goals. While changing the trajectory of outcomes for youth in and from care ultimately requires a systems-level response, WoodGreen recognizes that now is the time to act if we want to help young people thrive as they transition out of care in Toronto. WoodGreen’s Free 2 Be (Housing First for Youth Leaving Care) is expected to launch in late 2017.
“In order to get a job you have to go to school. And in order to do good in school you need to have mentors to guide you and encourage you. Youth in care don’t have that. A lot of kids never had the guidance they needed, and now they can’t get any jobs.”