For former foster kids who have left government care, the holidays can be a lonely, dark time.
As they “age out” of the system at 19, many find themselves unable to afford the essentials, like food and shelter.
Lacking the kind of support a loving, stable family provides, they don’t necessarily have the basic life skills that other kids their age do – such as opening a bank account, signing up for school, making it through a successful interview, or finding a safe place to live.
At 19, they’re considered adults, expected to be living independently and fending for themselves, explains Kisti Singh of SOS Children’s Village BC.
“There is no funding in place for kids after they age out,” she says.
“Sometimes situations are negotiable with foster parents,” she says. “Sometimes, they accommodate a youth if they are going to school.”
The society is asking people to give gift cards and and donations in an annual Christmas appeal in support of at-risk youth in the transition to adulthood program.
Last year, the community responded generously, donating $7,500 in gift cards that were given to former foster children in Surrey, helping them to buy food, warm winter clothing and bus fare – along with sending a message of hope.
Alan, a former foster child, was headed down a lonely, self-destructive path after leaving government care at 19.
He’d only been on his own for a few weeks when he wound up on the streets, involved in drugs and turning to crime to support his habit.
If you’d asked him then about his future, he would have told you he’d be dead by 25, according to a youth worker he met from SOS BC.
In a brief, initial conversation, Alan was reminded that he’d once dreamed of going to university, getting a good job, owning a car and having a normal life. But he had no idea how to turn things around.
A chaotic childhood and adolescence where he bounced from one foster placement to the next – he figured it had been more than 50 –had left him without the most basic skills as an adult.
Today, he’s in a post secondary program, looking ahead to a bright future.
“I couldn’t have done it without the people at SOS,” he says. “They saved my life.”
Alan’s story has been shared as part of the 2015 appeal on behalf of the appeal.
To help, drop off or mail gift cards to 102-5830 176A Street, Surrey, B.C., V3S 4H5. Call 604-574-2964 to arrange for pick up. Guildford Mall, Walmart, and bus passes are needed most. To donate cash, visit sosbc.org/holidaychallengedonation.
Each year, more than 700 teenagers in foster care turn 19. An estimated 40 per cent of homeless youth have been in foster care, the society says.
There are signs of progress in adding supports; there are now more than 10 colleges and universities letting former foster children enroll without worrying about tuition.
There is also the Youth Futures Education Fund to help offset their living expenses.