President of Fairness for Children Raised by Relatives presented at the Province of BC’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services Budget 2023 Consultation in June 2022. Here is her submission:
Good afternoon my name is Shari Monsma and I am one of at least 13,000 kinship caregivers in BC as well as the proud president of Fairness for Children Raised by Relatives. We are a non-profit society that was formed in August of 2021. All are members including our Board of Directors are kinship caregivers. We have formed this society to ensure our kinship care children receive the same benefits, rights, and opportunities as all other children in care in the province of BC.
This afternoon I will be speaking on three topics, Child in Home of Relative, 54.01/54 Program, and Youth Aging out of Care.
Child in the Home of a Relative
Child in the Home of a Relative (CIHR) is the provincial kinship support program that both time and MCFD have forgotten.
The CIHR program was discontinued in 2010 and those previous recipients were grand parented. On March 31st, 2019, there were still 740 children receiving these benefits and as of November 2021 there were 353 children.
Our children have not received a single rate increase in the 12 years since the program ended in 2010, and the amounts they receive are drastically less than any other MCFD family support program. The rates range, depending on a child’s age, starting from $257.46 /month to $454.32/month while in comparison, the ministry’s Extended Family Program, Out-of-Care and Foster base rates are $1,005.32 to $1107.96/month.
The fact that our children did not receive an increase of any kind in April 2019, while other Ministry kinship care programs such as the EFP had their benefits nearly doubled, is simply unfair and discriminatory.
Even though MCFD is responsible for CIHR our children’s benefits are being administered through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. This means that every month our kinship caregivers must fill out the same reports as those on social assistance to ensure our benefits are mailed to us. We should not be treated differently compared to other programs that are administrated directly through the MCFD.
As a single grandparent, I have always worked hard and paid my own way and am very proud of this, it is not fair that all of us CIHR kinship caregivers must confirm monthly that we still need this assistance for our children.
We recommend that the 353 children in this program, be transferred to the EFP and allow them to receive equal benefits as those in this program. We would further recommend that you waive all the regular criteria to expedite their registration into this program. Our CIHR families deserve to be directly under the administration of MCFD.
Our final recommendation for this program would be to compensate those children who have aged out over the past 3 years.
Ministry of Children and Family Development’s 54.01/54.1 Family Support Program
54.01/54.1 program children, especially children with disabilities, continue to be treated unfairly compared to children in all other Ministry family support programs.
54.01/54.1 program children are typically being raised by extended family members, often grandparents, whom the courts have granted permanent guardianship. The Ministry usually provides some financial support to assist 54.01/54.1 families with raising their relatives.
Due to Ministry actions, 54.01/54.1 program families are ineligible to receive any of their children’s federal benefits: benefits that all other children in BC and most children in MCFD programs receive.
BC claims and receives these benefits from the federal government and directs most of them into the Ministry’s general revenue rather than to 54.01/54.1 families.
This Ministry practice hurts the lowest income 54.01/54.1 families the most, as these benefits are income-based, resulting in these families receiving as much as $802/month less than, for example, children in EFP. EFP children receive all of their federal benefits in addition to the same allowance from the Ministry as 54.01/54.1 families.
It’s even more unjust for 54.01/54.1 program families with eligible children with disabilities. They cannot claim their child’s disability tax credit, worth up to $3,000 year, because of BC’s federal claims. That adds up to $1,020/mo. less than similar EFP families receive.
The loss of these benefits to 54.01/54.1 families causes hardship, many of these children are Indigenous and may also have disabilities. Most have been impacted by trauma, either directly or historically and often require additional supports and services.
Our recommendations to ensure equality for all children in MCFD programs are for BC to either stop claiming these benefits from the federal government or increase 54.01/54.1 family allowances to match the federal benefits they would receive without the Ministry’s claims.
The BC Ombudsperson recently released a report highlighting the negative impacts of the Ministry’s policies and supports our claims of unequal treatment of 54.01/54.1 program children, and echoes many of our recommendations to end MCFD’s unfair 54.01/54.1 program policies.
54.01/54.1 program children need and deserve to receive all their federal benefits. it’s not just unfair for the Ministry to continue to allow those benefits to be withheld from them, its discrimination.
Youth Aging out of Care
Children and youth can enter kinship care at any age but in BC the majority of youth in MCFD programs ‘age out’ at 19 except for those under the Foster Care system. When youth age out, the government services and supports they rely on are simultaneously cut off.
Statistics Canada census data shows that 42% of young people between the ages of 20 and 29 still live with their parents. Most kinship care households are headed by aging and often single grandparents on limited income when the youth in their care turns 19 and no longer receive any support (financial or other). These youth, the majority of whom live with physical, emotional, and/or behavioural challenges are highly vulnerable and often leave home without adequate services to live independently.
Our recommendation is that MCFD provides the same extension of benefits to kinship care youths as they have to youths in the Foster Care system. This requires extending their monthly support benefits from 19 years old to 27 years old, regardless of which program they are enrolled in.