Province should expand tuition program for kids in care

B.C.’s youth advocate wants the province to remove some of the restrictions on its free tuition program for former children in care.

Bernard Richard said he “wholeheartedly” supports the new initiative, but he sees no reason to limit access to those 26 years and younger who have spent at least two years in government care.

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The representative for children and youth said in an interview that only about 50 per cent of youth in care graduate from high school, compared with almost 90 per cent of those raised outside the care system. “So they’re already behind the eight ball,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be creating more barriers for them to pursue post-secondary education. Everyone wins if they do.”

The NDP government announced in September that former children in care would get free tuition at any of B.C.’s 25 colleges and universities provided they met the eligibility requirements. The program was a key campaign promise and built on the work of Vancouver Island University, which, in 2013, became the rst post-secondary school in B.C. to waive tuition fees for young people aging out of government care.

The University of Victoria and nine other schools subsequently adopted similar programs.

Richard noted that the universities initially oered tuition waivers to young people who spent at least year in care, rather than the two years required by the government’s new program.

“I can’t see any reason why the [government] program would be more onerous, would provide more barriers, to accessing post-secondary education,” he said.

But Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark said in an interview that the government program is available to more vulnerable youth than the early university waivers were. She said universities generally oered free tuition to young people who had been in permanent custody of the state or who lived independently under youth agreements.

The NDP decided to also make the fee waivers available to youth who received government services through other arrangements, such as special-needs agreements, temporary custody orders, voluntary care agreements and extended family plans, Mark said. “We opened up the denition of ‘former kids in care’ by making it more accessible for a whole bunch of kids that aren’t living at home.”

Richard also wants government to eliminate the age cap on the program. “I certainly think that 26 is way too young, having talked to many young adults from care who say it takes a while to get their life together,” he said. Richard said his oce has spoken to young adults who have been turned down for the tuition waiver because they were too old.

“I want to be clear, I think most have been approved on appeal,” he said.

Lindsay Kines / Times Colonist

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