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Child Welfare (1-5)

Empowering Indigenous Youth in Care as They Transition to Adulthood: Critical Actions for Philanthropy and Policy

October 3, 2023

Conference Board of Canada

This research looks at how public policy and philanthropy can help sustain Indigenous-led initiatives to support Indigenous youth aging out of care and into community:

  • Compared with a non-Indigenous person who didn’t grow up in care, how much less will an Indigenous person who grew up in care earn over their lifetime?
  • What is kin care, and why is it a better fit for Indigenous-led child welfare than foster care?
  • How do these types of care affect education, employment, and mental health outcomes, and what are Indigenous child and family well-being agencies doing in these areas?
  • What can philanthropy and policy do to help?

Key Findings

  • Our findings show that Indigenous youth aging out ofcare are underemployed and have lower earnings than the general population. Strengthening their education and mental health to match the average non-Indigenous population is shown to increase their total lifetime income by an estimated $1.1 billion.
  • If action is not taken to improve education, employment,and mental health outcomes for Indigenous youth aging out of care within the next five years, the loss in economic potential would be at least $2.0 billion and could reach up to $5.5 billion, as projected by two different economic modelling scenarios.
  • Indigenous-led programs and services delivered by child and family well-being agencies prioritize identity-building for youth in care. Philanthropy and public policy can help support these efforts, positively impacting mental health, education, and employment outcomes for youth transitioning out of care and into the community.
  • Kin care placements should be used when possible. Compared with foster care, kin care
    appears to be more compatible with Indigenous values, self-determination, and the future state
    of Indigenous-led child welfare in Canada.
  • The findings of this research show that compared to children and youth in foster care, children and youth in kin care report better mental health and are more likely to pursue a post-secondary education. Yet, they also may require extra support during the crucial high school years.
  • Many Indigenous child and family well-being agencies want to develop facilities that offer a sense of family and kinship. These would be places where youth can drop in for tea, counselling, and cultural support. However, infrastructure gaps remain an issue that philanthropy and policy can help address.
  • Indigenous child and family well-being agencies need sustained roles for Elders and specialists who focus on relational, preventative work that is strengths-based and solutions-focused. Young people should also have meaningful opportunities to co-steer the child welfare sector, whether as research advisors or in the governance of service delivery.
  • Policy-makers should rethink provincial guidelines for program eligibility to ensure that youth get the support they need during critical life transitions. Age cut-offs for support are inconsistent with development and have proven not to work for Indigenous youth.

Based on our findings, we believe the following actions would have the highest impact for Indigenous
youth aging into community:

  • fund programs beyond the age of majority, and reassess their age criteria;
  • support programs that develop strong identities;
  • improve employment and leadership opportunities for Indigenous youth;
  • strengthen the high school completion rates of Indigenous youth in kin care;
  • develop infrastructure to help build community,
  • including drop-in facilities and housing;
  • align funding for agencies with the unique needs of the community that agency serves.

Click on the following link to read the entire report: