Foster care enables Charlottetown man to have a better life

Maureen Coulter comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 19, 2016
Danny Phalen of Charlottetown has been in foster care since he was eight years old. Phalen said there are a couple of changes he would like to see to the Child Protection Act, which is currently under review.
HEATHER TAWEEL/THE GUARDIAN

Danny Phalen of Charlottetown feels his life would have been very different if he hadn't gone to a foster home when he was eight years old.

"I have had a lot more opportunities in care than I would have (had) at home."

Phalen went into care because his single mother had difficulty providing for him and was not able to get all the resources she needed to do so.

"I don't ever remember me not being provided for, but there was always that risk," he said.

The 20-year-old has been living with the same foster family for 12 years.

"I'm very lucky and very privileged to have that as there is not many who do get that."

When he was 18 years old, Phalen applied for extended service, which allows him to live with his foster family until he is 21 years old. Only youth in permanent care can apply to receive this service.

Extended service also helps pay upwards of $10,000 for post-secondary education by Family and Human Services.

Phalen plans to apply for the paramedic course at Holland College for September 2016.

"If I went home, I wouldn't have access to that," said Phalen, calling going back to school a "privilege".

SEE THE NUMBERS HERE

Phalen, who is part of the Child Protection Act Review advisory committee, attended a public consultation session at Spring Park School, Feb. 17.

Rona Smith, director of Child and Family Services, discussed the current act and went over the process in which a child on Prince Edward Island goes into temporary and permanent custody.

When a report is received, a child protection social worker assesses the information to determine if an investigation is required.

Child protection services step in if there is reason to believe that the child may be at risk of child abuse and neglect.

The act is reviewed every five years. The last time it was reviewed was in 2007-2008.

Only six people were in attendance, but it allowed for an intimate discussion about the issues they feel exist within the current act.

Some issues brought up by the public include changing the language of the act so that earlier intervention can happen, better communication, raising more awareness about services, looking at poverty lines and providing more financial support for friends and family who step in to take care of the child.

Phalen said based on his experience, the system is good, but he feels there are a couple of things that could be changed, including extended service requirements and permanent care transitions.

To quality for extended services, an 18-year-old has to pursue higher education and Phalen feels this should change.

"If somebody doesn't have that opportunity, like if they were an underachiever or they just didn't have the marks in high school and they don't have that option to go to that higher education, then they just get dropped."

If the young adult can't afford to live on their own then their only option is to couch surf or go back to the home they were removed from, said Phalen.

"It puts them right back into the same living conditions and it kind of undermines the whole thing."

Phalen also feels that a child in permanent care shouldn't have to change schools like he had to in the third grade.

"That really didn't work well," said Phalen. "I think it would have been much more beneficial for me to stay."

By the numbers:

There are five group homes on the Island

There are 63 foster parents in the province

In 2014/2015, there were 225 children in care

SEE CONSULTATION SCHEDULE

Approximately 10 child protection reports are received a day on P.E.I.

To make a child protection report during regular business hours, call 902-368-6657, toll free 1-877-341-3101

To make a child protection report after hours, holidays and weekends, call 902-368-6868, toll free 1-800-341-6868

Public consultation schedule

Feb. 24 at Montague High School, 7-9 p.m. (storm date, Feb. 25)

March 2 at Souris Regional School, 7-9 p.m. (storm date, March 3)

Written submissions are also being accepted by mail or email. Visit www.gov.pe.ca/sss/childprotectionact for more information.