Province announces $28M for youth transitioning from care, but critics say program falls short

Touring the welding shop at NAIT, Mickey Amery, minister of Children Services, said TAP is significantly benefiting participants transitioning out of care. (Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)
Touring the welding shop at NAIT, Mickey Amery, minister of Children Services, said TAP is significantly benefiting participants transitioning out of care. (Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)

The UCP government is investing $28 million in a program aimed at supporting young adults aging out of government care, but critics say the transition has been disastrous and programming falls short for those most in need.

The Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) was introduced last year as the province moved to end the Support and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAA).

This week the province announced more funds for TAP — $25.6 million from Children's Services, plus $2.5 million from Skilled Trades and Professions.

"This is a life-changing program for youth in care and I'm incredibly grateful that budget 2023 includes $25.6 million over the next three years to help more youth and young adults make a smooth transition out of care," Mickey Amery, minister of Children Services, said at a news conference Wednesday.

"We're finding that it has benefited our young transitioning adults significantly."

Scott Neufeld/CBC
Scott Neufeld/CBC

One TAP beneficiary shared her journey from foster care to Red Seal welder after graduating from Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Emilia St. Pierre said her foster mom was her biggest cheerleader, instilling confidence and encouragement, and caring for her son while she attended school.

"This new Initiative from the government can help you find success in life and find the career of your dreams," St. Pierre said.

'We don't need to be limited by our past. And if I can do it, so can you."

Amery said TAP has improved upon SFAA supports by providing services that are specialized and more consistent to build successful, independent lives.

TAP financial supports end at 22 but non-financial supports are available up to 24 including mental health and addictions services, health benefits, and access to social workers, as part of a larger Youth in Transition program.

'Unmitigated disaster'

But according to critics, TAP was not available as SFAA participants were cut off, and it has left behind those who are most vulnerable.

"They did not have an alternative program in place," said lawyer Avnish Nanda in a recent interview. "They developed the TAP program and it has been an unmitigated disaster.

"It has forced … people who otherwise would have been through the SFAA program, taken care of, supported, led to an independent self-sustaining life in adulthood, to homelessness, to substance use, use, to overdose, death."

Three years ago Nanda  and his client, referred to as A.C. in court documents, filed a constitutional challenge after the province changed SFAA's cut-off age from 24 to 22.

They credited SFAA with keeping A.C. off the streets, and her daughter out of government care, while she focused on her education.

At the heart of the success, Nanda argued, were the social workers who often served the role of supportive parent many have never had, going as far as offering food, rides, home visits or looking for youth who went missing.

Under the new program, Nanda said his client was among SFAA participants immediately directed to Alberta Works or welfare

'She lost her social worker, her only consistent emotional support since the age of nine," Nanda said. It's put my client in such a difficult situation where she's now homeless.  She has survived various forms of physical violence."

Court documents show the government has filed an application arguing the TAP program has addressed concerns raised in the constitutional challenge.

Submitted by Avnish Nanda
Submitted by Avnish Nanda

Peter Smyth, a social worker who oversaw programming for high-risk youth at Children's Services for decades, said TAP is more suited to youth in foster care rather than high-risk populations.

The reason, he said, is because the latter don't have the support network that builds self-worth and resiliency and helps them navigate life or challenges.

"The implementation of TAP, with no consultation with youth, the front-line workers or community did harm for this population of complex and troubled youth," said Smyth. "I have heard this from all three groups. The youth feel betrayed and abandoned."

Amery said his government is committed to working with young adults transitioning out of care.

According to his ministry, of approximately 1,400 SFAA participants, all but 18 transitioned to TAP. When asked by CBC, the government did not provide metrics around changes to homelessness or drug poisonings within the population.