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TORONTO, December 8, 2016 – The Ontario government’s plan to raise the age of child protection from 16 to 18 can help keep more kids from ending up on the street, according to the country’s largest agency for homeless youth.

Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau announced the plan along with other changes to provincial children and youth services at the agency today.

“We welcome this important and long-awaited step towards providing youth in this age group with critically needed help to prevent them from falling through the cracks and becoming chronically homeless,” said Covenant House Toronto Executive Director, Bruce Rivers. The extension would apply to youth who had not been involved with child welfare.

Last year alone, the agency saw almost 300 kids aged 16 and 17. Rivers explained that young people often endure abusive or neglectful situations until they believe they are old enough to fend for themselves. But until now, youth 16 and 17, not previously involved with children’s aid, could not receive help, including financial support to live on their own and stay in school or receive the guidance they need, putting them at a serious disadvantage.

Rivers urged the government to ensure that service agencies, like Covenant House, are ready to implement the change before they move forward. “It is critical that front-line workers have the training to support these young people, especially if they disclose incidents of abuse.”

Covenant House has continued to advocate for the extended age of protection and consulted with the provincial Ministry of Children and Youth Services. As a member of Ontario’s Youth Leaving Care Working Group in 2012-13, Rivers offered the agency’s expertise to help the province identify and implement opportunities to strengthen resources and supports for older youth in need of protection and those transitioning out of the child welfare system.