Quebecers who were in youth protection less likely to graduate, be employed: study

MONTREAL — Young people who spent time in the care of Quebec's youth protection authorities are less likely to graduate from high school or to be employed than their peers, a government-commissioned study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at several Quebec universities, found only 37 per cent of youth who were in care had graduated high school by the time they turned 21, compared to 86 per cent of all Quebecers.

It also found one-third of 21-year-olds who had been in care were not employed, in school or in a training program, compared to less than 10 per cent of all Quebecers the same age.

"The employment difficulties these young people encounter reveal institutional flaws that result in significant disadvantages and social inequalities," María Eugenia Longo, a professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique and one of the study's lead authors, said in a news release.

The study found that more than 2,000 young people leaving care each year need more support to prepare them for adult life and to ensure they have a stable living environment as quickly as possible after they age out of youth protection.

The researchers also found unstable living environments, such as changing placements within youth protection, make it more difficult for young people to stay employed, noting young people who were still in care often had to leave jobs or change schools if they were moved.

Jessica Côté-Guimond, the director of a collective of people who had been in care known as Le Collectif Ex-Placé DPJ, said children are placed in an average of five to nine different living environments while they are in the youth protection system.

"Residential instability during placement is one of the most predictive factors for instability in adult life," she said in an interview, adding those who had more instability when they were in care were at higher risk of experiencing homelessness, having mental health challenges or "not being in training or employment."

Côté-Guimond said young Quebecers in care need more resources as they age out of the system.

"What this really tells us is there is a major lack of support, of accompaniment to help young people as they transition to adult life," she said.

Côté-Guimond said other provinces, such as British Columbia and Ontario, have done a better job of helping children transition out of care. And while a program that offers financial aid and mentorship is available in Quebec, it only exists in four out of 17 regions, creating inequalities within the province.

She said support for young people needs to come from the education, higher education and employment departments, as well as youth protection authorities.

More psychological help is needed to help both children dealing with trauma and those with learning disabilities, she said, adding resources for that kind of support are often limited in schools.

Many young people who have gone through the youth protection system end up in adult education programs that don't offer the kind of specialized support they need, she said.

The study, conducted between February 2023 and February 2024, included data from 1,136 young people aged between 16 and 24 who had been or were in youth protection. The researchers also conducted interviews with 30 of those young people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2024.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press