Students Fill in the Gap for Ontario’s Youth

JUSTIN EISINGA | REPORTER

A group of Redeemer students are attempting to make significant changes to laws that protect children and youth in Ontario. Sarah Brooks, Kimberly Simpson, and Christina Doerksen are spearheading a petition asking provincial legislators to change the age of protection from 16 to 18.  

Under the current legislation, once youth who are under the protection of Child and Family Services (mainly living in foster families or group homes) reach the age of 16, they are no longer under the legal protection of CFS and are considered independent. This small group of girls has a vision for a province that ensures the protection of all its youth, a place where anyone under the age of 18 does not have to succumb to situations of violence and abuse simply because they are pushed out of the system’s care.

                  For Sarah Brooks, a second-year student who has lived downtown throughout her time as a student at Redeemer, this campaign is personal. Sarah has been volunteering with City Kidz for several years, and was hired this summer to assist with the organization’s Summer to Remember program. Through this staff position, Sarah was able to interact with teenage student leaders, many of whom found themselves within the Child and Family Services system. On top of this, Sarah’s experience living downtown has introduced her to youth living in difficult situations in her North End neighbourhood. Some of these youth experience abuse, but because they are over the age of 16, Child and Family Services is unable to take measures to protect these youth; they are all too often left to fend for themselves. “The only thing I can tell them is to move in with a friend,” Sarah said of these situations. 

                  Sarah was left frustrated and upset that the current system stops protecting youth at the age of 16. Upon doing more research, Sarah realized this legislation came into action in the early 1990’s with the Child and Family Services Act. With this legislation solidifying itself as law, Child and Family Services was mandated to protect children and youth only up to the age of 16, unless a protection order is obtained.

Things were set to change last year, however, when Barrie MPP Rod Jackson began pushing Bill 88 through the Ontario legislature that would extend the age of protection to 18 and provide basic rights for all youth. However, when a provincial election was called this summer, the bill was swept off the floor. To add to the complications, Rod Jackson was not re-elected. This left advocates for youth protection in a tough situation.

                  Upon learning about the stalling of Bill 88, Sarah mobilized fellow Redeemer students Kimberly Simpson and Christina Doerksen. Kimberly was on staff at Philpott Memorial Church this summer, coordinating day camps for children and youth living downtown. The two girls crossed paths through their respective work in the city, and recruited Christina at the beginning of the school year. Since then, they have been working hard to advocate for young people throughout Ontario and pushing for Bill 88 to come back to the floor of Queen’s Park.

Kimberly approached the MPP for her hometown of Brampton, Vic Dhillon. Vic Dhillon challenged the girls to collect 5000 signatures. This group of determined young women is determined to make this happen.  

                  There are great challenges ahead to get Bill 88 to rise back to the provincial legislature and signed into law. “The first push is always difficult,” Sarah remarked about taking on this daunting task. “There are only three of us!”  

However, it is the girls intertwining of faith and justice that gives them energy to work towards this admirable task. Sarah also wants this to be an inspiration for other students, to demonstrate to the rest of the student body that engaging in systems and attempting to change policy is something anyone can do, and something we are created for.

“We are called to stand in the gap. Being a student isn’t all you were called to do,” Sarah said with fervour. “We are called to use our sphere of influence. We are called to bring justice. Someone needs to say something on behalf of these children and youth. Are they old enough for us to just forget about them?

Students can sign the petition at www.change.org/p/vic-dhillon-bridge-the-gap-between-children-s-aid-and-child-family-and-welfare-act-of-ontario