Young wards of the Province of Ontario can now receive financial and emotional supports up to the age of 21 through the Extended Care and Maintenance (ECM) program. The program provides youth in care with valuable opportunities to complete secondary and postsecondary education, receive job training, access clinical interventions and learn important life skills.
Quinte Children’s Homes believes there are many benefits to having a child remain on an ECM agreement. “The recent attention to the importance of ECM for youth in care is long overdue,” says Stevenson, Waplak & Associates Clinical Director Jeff Waplak. “It has been beneficial for the youth within our care to work collaboratively with us and their guardian (their agency) to develop transition plans based on their strengths and needs and not based on a birth date.”
Access to Extended Care and Maintenance had previously ended when a youth turned 18. In the past, kids who left care at age 16 or 17 couldn’t return for these important supports. The Building Families and Supporting Youth To Be Successful Act, 2011 removed barriers to allow older youth whose care was terminated at ages 16 or 17 to return and receive supports until the age of 21.
“We have long advocated that an individual’s needs don’t change overnight simply because the calendar reads that they are 17 one day and 18 the next,” says Waplak. “We are seeing individuals take advantage of ECM plans and graduate high school, engage in college preparation courses and achieve meaningful employment.”
Seven Quinte Children’s Homes kids are now making big plans with the help of ECM. Two university-bound kids are staying with their family units until they integrate into the university setting. Two youth are staying with their families with full agency support to finish high school. Two youth with developmental disabilities are remaining with their family units and one will be supported until an appropriate adult program is identified.
“With agency support, all of our kids who are actively striving to finish high school get the opportunity to finish high school within their family setting and have bridge support until enrolling in university,” says Waplak.
The financial support provided by ECM does not include a “clawback” feature and provides security whether the youth is pursuing postsecondary education, attempting to find employment or working part-time and developing future plans. For youth in postsecondary education, it means that part-time employment may not be necessary, freeing them up to focus solely on their studies. Continuing with an ECM agreement also provides access to scholarships, bursaries and grants offered for youth in care.
“Beyond these practical considerations, an ECM agreement provides youth who are often not fully prepared to move to total independence with the continued emotional support of their Children’s Services Worker,” says a worker with 20 years of experience in the field. “Youth in care have faced many struggles in their lives, often mature more slowly and have limited or no family support. Most 18-year-olds are ill-equipped to manage totally on their own and Crown Wards are no different. An ECM agreement gives them a higher level of support and access to resources.”
Many youth advocates, including the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children & Youth, are now recommending that ECM agreements be available until the age of 25 in order to fully support youth in their transition to the world of work.