Bad information cost a B.C. woman formerly in foster care thousands in education subsidies and the province’s Children and Family Development Ministry is refusing to compensate her for its mistakes, the ombudsperson has found.
Jay Chalke released his latest report Wednesday (Sept. 6), “Misinformed,” which details how a former youth in care was given incorrect information from a social worker that led to her being unable to access educational and health supports that she believed to she was entitled to receive. Because she had been transferred to the care of her aunt, funding was unavailable to her after she turned 19.
The ombudsperson made five recommendations to the ministry, including one that she be compensated, but only two have been accepted.
‘Alexandra’, whose identity is being protected for her privacy, wrote to the ombudsperson in June 2021 after the ministry a few days earlier denied her application to the Agreement with Young Adults Program (AYA) and the Youth Educational Assistance Fund (YEAF). The fund is meant to help former youth in care pay for post-secondary education, but because she was in her aunt’s care when she was 19 she was ineligible.
Chalke said Alexandra provided in “vivid detail” what her life was like, dealing with physical and emotional abuse in her home and being removed by the ministry five times before she was 16. Alexandra was born in the late 1990s in a small town in B.C. From the time of her birth her mother struggled with severe alcohol misuse and was a victim of repeated violent physical assaults. Alexandra first went into foster care at three months old, and then as a teen was physically abused by a family member.
She went back into temporary government care, and, when she was 17, the ministry developed a plan to transfer her out of government care and into her aunt’s custody.
It was her lifelong dream to get a post-secondary education, and her aunt asked a social worker if Alexandra would continue to receive government supports such as for health, living expenses and tuition expenses. Chalke said her aunt was told Alexandra should – being the key word – qualify for supports, but would get back to her on it.
Chalke said the social worker was wrong, but never did correct the misinformation.
The mistake had significant impacts on her, and Chalke said the ministry is rejecting the ombudsperson’s recommendation to compensate her for the value of the benefits she was led to believe she would receive.
He said Alexandra did pursue a post-secondary education, but incurred substantial costs and debt in the process. Both AYA and YEAF would have been available to her if she was still in care at 19.
Chalke added legal safeguards were not provided by the ministry in the transfer. The ministry had a legal obligation to provide Alexandra with access to independent legal advice to help her understand the consequences of moving into her aunt’s care. As well, the court application consent form indicating whether or not Alexandra understood the impact of the proposed court order was left blank.
Of the five recommendations, the Children and Family Development Ministry has only accepted to develop two strategies. One recommendation is that ministry staff are made aware of the various benefits and limitations with each plan so it can be effectively communicated to anyone impacted. The other is that staff are made aware of their responsibility to provide a referral for independent legal advice, which is required by legislation and the ministry’s policy.
Both of those recommendations have a deadline of Dec. 31, 2023.
The other rejected recommendations include that Alexandra be compensated by the ministry for the total amount of funds she would have been eligible for; conducting an audit to determine whether other youth were provided with accurate information and opportunities to receive legal advice; and to add an extra level of oversight by involving the Public Guardian and Trustee in all court applications to transfer custody.
Chalke said the ministry was refusing to look to see if other young people were provided with incorrect information or lacked legal advice was because it lacked confidence in its own records. It was a “troubling admission.”
“In my view, even if the records are not complete that doesn’t preclude the ministry from reviewing the records they do have.” Chalke said that shouldn’t be a barrier to learn from their mistakes or learn the breadth of the problem.
“They can certainly look at the records they do have,” said Chalke, adding the ministry can also look at how they can improve their own record keeping.
He added the ministry has an obligation to act in the best interest of young people and youth in their care.
“I’m concerned there may be others who are in the same situation.”
Black Press Media has reached out to Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean for comment.