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FOSTERING CHANGE Photo: Sarah Race 2 0 1 7 I V a n c o u v e r F o u n d a t i o n l p a g e 2 5 IN THE WEEKS PRIOR to the May 2017 provincial election, SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver were impromptu sites of youth advocacy. Young people from Fostering Change's Youth Advisory Circle (YAC) handed out buttons and pamphlets and struck up important conversations with passengers about the difficulties faced by B.C. youth who grow up in foster care. "It was pretty rad," says Meredith Graham. "Most people don't know the truth about foster care and especially that youth age out at 19." Graham, who aged out of care a few years ago, along with her YAC allies, were spreading the word about the Support the 700 campaign. A project of Vancouver Foundation's Fostering Change initiative, it seeks to engage electoral candidates and community members in making visible their commitments to these young people. In B.C., approximately 700 youth age out of foster care every year. With financial support only available to those who meet stringent criteria, they face significant challenges. As a group, they have high rates of homelessness, mental health issues and poverty, as well as low graduation rates. In 2016, Vancouver Foundation's report on youth aging out of care estimates significant annual economic costs – up to $268 million – from limited employment and earnings potential, and health and criminal justice-related costs. However, the report also asserts that a government investment of $57 million could improve outcomes and reduce costs. e Support the 700 team wanted to make this topic an election issue. ey set up a website on which B.C. residents could enter their contact information and postal codes, prompting the site to send an email to the candidates in their ridings. e email invited the candidates to make one or more of four pledges, which included commitments to meeting with young leaders from foster care and to advocating for increased funding. Kris Archie, Senior Manager of Fostering Change, says some candidates received so many emails they asked Vancouver Foundation to post a notice that they had already pledged, so the messages would stop. "We declined," Archie says. "If your constituents care about this issue and want to keep emailing you, we aren't going to stop them." Rallying British Columbians to advocate for youth aging out of foster care By Jessica nataLe wooLLard Meredith Graham speaks to participants at an event for youth in care Graham and Archie say Support the 700 prompted many conversations. e hashtag #supportthe700 was used widely on social media. Significantly, in one televised debate, the host asked the party leaders a question submitted from a member of the public – if elected, how would you support these youth? Approximately 150 candidates made at least one pledge commitment, and 41 of these were elected as MLAs. Support the 700 posted their names and which pledges they made and asked British Columbians to hold their MLAs accountable for their election promises. With the new MLAs sworn in, the next phase can begin. Fostering Change is commissioning research into policies that could benefit youth aging out of care. Additionally, in partnership with First Call, a Vancouver- based advocacy coalition for B.C.'s children and youth, Support the 700 is organizing an event in Victoria in the fall of 2017 that will bring MLAs together with young leaders who have aged out of care for a conversation about ways to improve outcomes. For Graham and the Support the 700 team, the campaign was a success not only because many candidates pledged to help, but also because it inspired British Columbians. "Support the 700 really mobilized people and sparked not only conversation but action," Graham says. "I don't want anyone else to ever feel the way I did when I was aging out."

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