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25 Years of Childhood

August 21, 2012 permalink

Children's aid is anxious to expand its business by including children up to the age of 25. An article showing Durham CAS executive director Wanda Secord providing loving help to Anna Ho is enclosed. Mrs Secord was previously in our columns for her ignorance about the credentials of fake psychologist, and so-called Doctor, Gregory Carter. For the niggardly size of CAS support to students, refer earlier articles on bursaries: [1] [2] [3].



Jillian Follert | Aug 20, 2012 - 4:30 AM

Durham Children's Aid Society: 25 is the new 21

Advocates lobby to extend financial supports for former youths in care

Anna Ho
OSHAWA -- Anna Ho is a local youth who is close to growing out of care of the Durham Children's Aid Society due to her age. Durham CAS is calling on the Province to raise the age that youth can stay in care from 18 to 21, extend financial support to age 25 and raise the age of protection to 18. August 15, 2012
Wanda Secord and Anna Ho
OSHAWA --Wanda Secord, left, of Durham CAS with Anna Ho, a local youth who is close to growing out of care of the Durham Children's Aid Society due to her age. Durham CAS is calling on the Province to raise the age that youth can stay in care from 18 to 21, extend financial support to age 25 and raise the age of protection to 18. August 15, 2012

DURHAM -- In many ways, Anna Ho is like any other university student.

The 19 year old loves living in her own apartment in Toronto, frets over the cost of tuition and textbooks and is excited to start her second year in the social work program at Ryerson University.

But unlike most of her classmates, she can't turn to mom and dad when the cash starts running low. There isn't a parental home to return to for Sunday night dinners or a quick load of laundry.

"I've lived on my own since I was 16," she says matter of factly. "It was really hard at first ... there were a lot of challenges. Now I like it a lot. But it can still be hard."â?¨ Ms. Ho became a crown ward at age 14 has been supported by the Durham Children's Aid Society for the past three years.

Even though technically an adult now, she is still able to access "extended care and maintenance" funds through the agency until she turns 21.

The money is intended to help youth who were formerly crown wards make the transition to adulthood.

But at a time when many youths rely on mom and dad well into their 20s, critics say 21 is too soon to be cut off.

"A lot of people are freaking out in the months leading up to their 21st birthday," Ms. Ho says. "They worry they're going to end up couch surfing, or going to a homeless shelter or even living on the street."

DCAS has joined a growing chorus calling on the Province to extend financial supports to age 25.

"Our future is our young people," says DCAS executive director Wanda Secord. "If we want to have a strong community we need them to be safe and successful ... but that's hard when they're completely on their own at 21."

In 2006, 44 per cent of young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 lived with their parents, up from 32 per cent 20 years earlier.

The number of youth ages 20 to 24 living at home was 60 per cent.

More adult children are also moving back home within five years of initially leaving -- triple the rate of two generations ago.

Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, says former crown wards "aging out" of care face major challenges.

"They often leave the system alone, they don't have many friends or supportive adults in their life," he explains. "They're dropping off the edge of the world with nobody. It's one of the most difficult things we ask these young people to do."

A recent report called "25 is the new 21" includes Canada's first ever cost-benefit analysis on extending financial support for former crown wards to age 25.

It says these youths are less likely to have a high school diploma, go on to post-secondary education or earn a living wage.

On the flip side they are more likely to live in poverty, be homeless, experience mental health issues or find themselves in conflict with the law.

Mr. Elman says extending support to 25 will save money in the long run if it means successfully launching these youth into adulthood.

According to the report, for every $1 the Province spends to extend support to age 25, taxpayers will save an estimated $1.36.

Mr. Elman plans to bring the issue to Durham regional council and its health and social services committee this fall.

"This is not how we would treat our own children, this is not how we should treat the Province's children," he noted.

Source: Metroland, Durham Region

Addendum: Here is another version of Anna Ho's story, along with an archival news report of her mother's murder.



Ryerson Crown ward calls for child welfare changes.

During a Ryerson social work course at the beginning of this semester, instructor Charlene Avalos gave her students an exercise to explore what common privileges or disadvantages people face in society. It was a way for students to think about how to break down societal barriers, said Avalos.

Avalos asked students to go to different parts of the classroom that best represented how they were raised, depending on whether they grew up with both their biological parents, one of them, extended family, foster parents, or with adults who were not their immediate parents.

As the students scurried about to join their respective factions, Anna Ho, a second-year social work student, stayed in her seat in the middle of the classroom and felt tears well up in her eyes. She said she didn’t feel she belonged in any part of the classroom.

“When I visualized it, I was struck back and wow, I realized how different I was,” said Ho, who became a Crown ward after living in a series of “kinship homes” following the death of her mother. “Not having parents at all is so hard because you know that everybody else has family to go to for Christmas.”

Crown wards are children who have been permanently separated from their biological parents for a number of reasons including abuse, neglect or death. Their legal guardian becomes the province. They may live in group homes, foster homes or in kinship homes where the children have some prior familiarity with the adults in the home. The province pays financial support to the children, and a caseworker is assigned to help them with any counselling they need.

There are approximately 8,300 Crown wards in Ontario. A 2008 report compiled by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies says that only 44 per cent of them graduate from high school, compared with an 81 per cent average in Ontario. Of those who complete high school, only 23 per cent make it to post-secondary education.

Students with Ho’s background as Crown wards make up less than one per cent of Ontario’s post-secondary student population.

After seeing that Ho was unique among her peers, Avalos asked her if she would like to share with the class her experience raising herself. Ho told her classmates that, without parents, children are forced to grow up much faster.

The story of how Ho, 19, came into the care of the province goes back to June 2007 when her mother’s common-law partner fatally stabbed her mother and grandmother before turning the knife on himself. Ho, then 13, was at home in Scarborough when it happened on the night of her Grade 8 graduation ceremony. She ran outside covered in blood and nearly collapsed on her neighbour’s lawn. She still bears a scar on her left hand from trying to protect her mother and grandmother.

As headlines around the country recounted the double murder-suicide, Ho said she greeted the well-wishers at her mom’s funeral with a smile.

“I would always pretend I’m really happy,” said Ho. “But on the inside, it’s so different compared to what my face is telling you. At the time, it was a defence mechanism for me. I didn’t want to show vulnerability to people.”

Ho has been in the news again recently — this time because she has been part of an unprecedented movement calling for sweeping reforms to the provincial child welfare system. Ho, along with several other youth in care, contributed to a 2012 report from Ontario’s child advocate’s office calling for these changes.

The report, titled My Real Life Book, led to the creation of a government-appointed panel that released a blueprint of recommendations in January. The blueprint makes several proposals for the government, including providing financial and emotional support to Crown wards up to age 25 instead of 21, funding their post-secondary education, making adoption a priority, and supporting extracurricular activities while they are in care.

The Liberal government has already started working to turn some of these recommendations into a reality. Ryerson University is one of 11 post-secondary institutions that have partnered with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, to provide a maximum of $6,000 in tuition bursary to Crown wards.

Last month, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children presented Ho and the other youth who worked on the report with a Children’s Rights Trailblazer award at Queen’s Park.

Ho said Crown wards are always disadvantaged in some way because of a lack of family support. She would like the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to develop a mentorship program with professionals who can advise Crown wards of all their options at any stage in life. The emotional support provided by a caseworker is simply not consistent, she said, because caseworkers are responsible for dozens of children with varying needs spread out across a large region, and they have their own lives.

After her mom died, Ho couldn’t turn to her mother’s sisters for help because previous family tensions had created an atmosphere of mistrust. One aunt even blamed the young teen for the abuse her stepfather rained down on her, said Ho. Her older brother, although an adult at 18, was too unsettled to take care of her. Ho’s abusive father had been out of the picture since her mother had left him in Hong Kong and moved to Canada with her two children when Ho was six.

Ho’s church minister asked a family in her congregation if the teen could live with them near downtown Toronto. The family did not want the responsibility of another child, said Ho, but consented to lease her a room. Ho moved out to live on her own at 16. She quickly learned to budget, buy her own groceries, cook for herself and discipline herself to keep up with her school work.

“My mom was always stressing about me doing well in school. So I always kept really good grades in school because I know how much my mom valued that,” said Ho.

“But also because I know that I don’t have anything else in my future — I need to work hard.”

Ho rarely got to socialize during her teenage years because of the time constraints resulting from taking responsibility for her own care, and a lack of money. Yet today, she is a contemporary and hip-hop dancer with impeccable social skills, smiling easily and maintaining eye contact with the people she interacts with.

Approximately five feet tall and a little over 100 pounds, her petite form belies the boundless energy and poise Ho appears to have as she runs from one appointment to another. She speaks passionately about persuading the provincial government to improve the lives of the children in its care as well as the youth who are leaving care.

While completing her undergraduate degree at Ryerson, Ho works part time at the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth on Bay Street. She acts as an ambassador to promote the My Real Life Book report, and liases with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

From her office window on the 22nd floor, Ho enjoys the sight of children skating at Nathan Phillips Square below. She feels a pang of desire when she sees children happily spending time with their parents, but reminds herself that she can’t change her past.

“It’s always about thinking ahead and moving forward,” she said. “I always have to try to keep my mind that way. Otherwise, I would be in a state of hopelessness and I’m not going to get myself in that situation.”

Ho said she recognizes that traumatic experiences at different stages of people’s lives prevent some from achieving the same successes she has.

“There are struggles, but there are also successes even within the same person,” she said. “There are little successes and big successes. Even getting yourself to school can be a success for some people.”

Crown wards receive care until they turn 18, but can apply for what is called “extended care maintenance” until age 21. By 18, the majority of Crown wards have been unable to finish high school due to mental health or emotional issues, and a number of them end up homeless, in prisons, in mental institutions or on welfare. Almost 70 per cent of homeless youth come from foster homes or group homes.

Ho said she feels strongly that Crown wards would have a better chance of graduating from high school and standing on their own two feet if the province were to provide financial and emotional support to the age of 25.

“If they graduate high school, they are more likely to go on to get higher education, and get a job and contribute back to society again,” she said. “A lot of them will end up working and paying taxes. So instead of the province using taxpayer money to pay for mental health and adult welfare, give them the tools to become productive members of society. There needs to be consistency and equal opportunities for young people.

“The state is the Crown wards’ parent. So, why not?”

Source: Ryerson School of Journalism

Killer moody before rampage

Neighbours recalled how Alton Beckford went from being a happy, smiling and helpful man to becoming brooding and resentful after losing his job five weeks ago. Monday Beckford killed his wife and her mother before killing himself in their Scarborough home.

Britteny Lee, Lily Sit and Alexis Lee
Britteny Lee, right, shows Anna Ho’s picture in her yearbook as Britteny’s mother, Lily Sit, and sister, Alexis look on.

Anna Ho wore a pink dress, her hair in curls, and nails painted as her stepfather, Alton Beckford, proudly snapped pictures of her in the school's gymnasium decorated for graduation. She was on the Grade 8 honour roll.

His hair freshly cut, Beckford wore pressed trousers and a dress shirt for the occasion.

"Everybody seemed happy," said neighbour Ria Hosein whose family was also at the graduation Monday night. Her daughter was in Anna Ho's class at Thomas L. Wells Public School in Scarborough.

But neighbours had sensed things hadn't been right at the family's Knowles Dr. home. Their fears were confirmed Monday night when emergency personnel arrived around 9:30 p.m. and discovered the bodies of Beckford, his common-law wife, Amy Ho, and her mother, believed to be 78.

Beckford had stabbed his wife and her mother before turning the weapon on himself, police said.

After leaving the graduation ceremony early, Beckford, 32, Amy Ho, 47, and 13-year-old Anna drove the few blocks back to Knowles Dr., a quiet street in a subdivision near Morningside Ave. and Finch Ave. E.

Hosein said she thought it odd that when she returned home shortly before 9 p.m. she saw Beckford around the side of his house still dressed up. Odder still, thought Lola, another neighbour, he had resumed watering the front lawn after the ceremony.

The next thing neighbours remembered seeing was Anna running out of the two-storey brick house, her hands and face spattered in blood. "She was screaming, `My mom is dying,'" said Hosein, standing on the front porch next to her husband, Tony, who had been sitting on the porch when the screaming girl ran to them for help.

"She said she told him to stop."

Yesterday the concrete remained stained with blood drops the size of quarters. A chair smeared with blood leaned against the house.

Several nearby residents, including Tony Hosein, called 911.

When police arrived around 9:30 p.m. they believed a killer was on the loose so the Emergency Task Force was called in and a manhunt began. But that was eventually called off and by dawn homicide investigators acknowledged that what they were dealing with was a double murder-suicide.

Anna was treated in hospital and released into the care of her aunt, neighbours said.

Anna's brother, Peter, a student who is either 17 or 18, was not home at the time and arrived later.

It's believed Anna and Peter's biological father lives in Hong Kong.

Neighbours recalled yesterday how Beckford went from being a happy, smiling and helpful man to becoming brooding and resentful after losing his job five weeks ago.

Retiree Lalta Persaud, who lives across the street, said until recently, Beckford worked as a sewing machine technician for a company that makes mattresses. His common-law wife also worked there and was on the job the day she died.

"He told me he wasn't happy about the way they treated him because he spoke up about things in the workplace and was fired," Persaud said. Among the things Beckford had complained about was speeding forklifts.

Beckford told him he'd gone to the union but was bitterly disappointed. "They gave him no satisfaction."

A few days ago, Beckford made a chilling threat. "He told me he's going to kill somebody there," Persaud said. Persaud urged Beckford to look for another job. "I told him there are lots of jobs," Persaud said. He dismissed Beckford's threats of returning to work to kill someone.

But Persaud also noticed Beckford had become strangely protective of Anna since he was let go, driving her to and from school.

Several neighbours said Beckford, who they believed has family in the west end, had come to them complaining of headaches.

Lola works with mentally ill patients and said it was clear he was depressed. "I could see he was suffering big time."

She liked him a lot and said he treated the children well. She pointed to the basketball net at the end of the family driveway.

"He bought that for all the neighbourhood kids," she said, shaking her head. "Something must have taken over him yesterday."

But she said there may have been earlier demons. Lola recalled Beckford resenting a woman who had dumped him after he brought her to Canada from Jamaica. She also said he was disappointed about not having children of his own.

Source: Toronto Star