Katrine Conroy is BC's new Minister for Children and Family Development. Get to know her, and the new provincial government's vision for kids and families, in this Q&A.
Do you have any personal connections to child welfare or adoption?
From a professional angle, I was an administrator in a non-profit that served children and families for more than 20 years. But more personally, yes, I do. I am a mom, and a granny to nine grandchildren (my grandkids call me "Granny Kat"), and I can tell you that I do know from experience the challenges parents face when raising children. Our family has benefitted from some of the services this ministry has to offer. I have always been grateful that we could access those services when we needed them.
What are you most looking forward to about this position?
I’m looking forward to being inspired by the amazing children and youth I get to meet as minister, and to making real, positive change for them. I was an early childhood educator and then an administrator for a non-profit in the Kootenay region that served children and families. I have experience in the sector and a real passion for kids; they truly energize me.
I feel like being minister affords me the opportunity to take all that prior knowledge, to listen, to learn—especially about Indigenous culture—and do the best I can to make the kinds of improvement that B.C.’s most vulnerable members have needed for a long time now.
The Premier identified reducing the number of Indigenous children entering the care system as one of your Ministry’s top priorities. How will you do that?
The child welfare system as it stands has failed Indigenous and Métis children and families, and we need to work together to change that.
True and lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a priority for this government. We are absolutely committed to reducing the number of children coming in to ministry care—and especially addressing the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care.
We all share the same goal, as outlined in Grand Chief Ed John’s report, to keep children out of care, where possible, and within their families, communities and traditions. Government’s role now is to listen and help where we can.
To do this, we are working with First Nations and Métis partners to ensure that services and supports reflect an Indigenous perspective and approach, and to support families before they find themselves in a crisis.
Our government understands that Indigenous communities are in the best position to identify and deliver services and supports that will have positive and lasting effects for their children and families.
We’re working to ensure that Delegated Aboriginal Agencies have equal funding for child protection services and we’re improving cultural planning to create opportunities for lifelong connections for youth in care to their unique languages and cultures.
We recognize that there are problems that must be fixed, and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we also have tremendous opportunity to make very positive change and I am committed to that.
Currently, youth age out of foster care at 19, but advocacy groups are pushing to increase this to 21 or even 25. Is that likely to happen?
Young people who have been in care should have the same level of support as other young adults do. I know I didn’t say "see ya later" to my kids at 19 and expect them to be fully self-supporting, nor would most parents. As the "parent" to young people in care, the government isn’t going to do that either.
We understand that young people from care often need support past their 19th birthday, even though they are legally adults and the Ministry’s ability to act as a guardian is ended. We’ve also heard from the young people in our care that they don’t want to be in foster care beyond age 19; in fact, no other province in Canada has extended foster care to the age of 25.
But youth from care have told us that additional and extended supports when they age out would be beneficial, and that’s what we’re providing and are committed to expand.
We have programs like Agreements with Young Adults and the Youth Education Assistance Fund so that we can continue to provide financial and other supports to those young adults who are no longer under our custodial care and are striking out on the path to independence.
Currently, supports are in place up to the age of 26. We’re also looking at expanding opportunities in training, education, life skills, rehabilitation, and child and youth mental health resources. We want to make sure we’re supporting these young people in ways that really make a difference for them.
As you know, one of the first things our government did was expand the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program, making [tuition] free at all 25 post-secondary institutes in B.C. for youth who have been in care for 24 months or more. We’re now looking at further enhancements to Agreements with Young Adults.
We know foster parents make great adoptive parents, but they often have to take a significant financial hit if they adopt—sometimes their support payments decrease by as much $3000 per month.
Faced with this, some foster families choose not to adopt because the income loss would prevent them from being able to meet their kids’ needs. Will this government do anything to make it more feasible for foster parents to offer permanency to their foster kids?
I can’t say enough about the individuals who have stepped up and opened their hearts and their homes to foster and adopt some of BC’s most vulnerable children and youth. The security and love that foster and adoptive parents provide is so needed. We are always seeking more permanency for children and youth and we don’t want to see any doors closed due to concerns that a caregiver might not get reasonable financial support.
I know—from both professional and personal experience—what it takes to raise a family and just how challenging that can be. Foster and adoptive parents have embraced that challenge.
As the new minister, I have met with so many dedicated foster parents, such as at the BC Federation of Foster Parent Associations' annual general meeting earlier this month, and I was also honoured to host some local foster parents at the Legislature and thank them personally for their commitment.
As government, we need to do a better job of being there for [foster and adoptive parents], and we are working to find ways to support the vital role they play in caring for vulnerable kids and teens in our province.
Are there any plans to increase or expand access to post-adoption assistance (PAA) for families who adopt kids from BC foster care? The families we work with often express frustration with not being able to access support because of the program’s limitations and restrictions.
More direct funding for these families is one initiative under consideration, and we’re always looking at other actions we might take to ensure our foster and adoptive parents are properly supported and equipped to succeed.
For instance, we currently offer supports like relief and respite, which give caregivers crucial breaks and help them recharge their batteries or take care of important family matters and come back ready and able to give quality care to the kids in their homes. As we re-examine our system of care, we’re looking closely at a number of other steps we might take to further ease the burden on caregivers.
What else can kids and families expect from the new government?
Kids and families can expect our new government to put people first. We know British Columbians have been struggling with high costs and fees, while the services they rely on have been getting worse, not better. We are committed to building a better BC for everyone, not just those at the top. We have been in government for three months and there is a lot of work to do, but I am excited by the tremendous opportunity as the Minister of Children and Family Development to make life better for our children and youth.
In the short time I have been minister, I have already met such inspiring young people who have taught me so much—whether at the Representative for Children and Youth’s "Ignite Your Spirit" healing circle, or the ministry’s own Youth Advisory Council. They, and British Columbians as a whole, can expect me to do my very best—to continue to listen, to collaborate, and to take the concerns of youth and families to heart and make positive change for kids and families.
Do you have a favourite personal experience or anecdote about family or children that you can share?
We have four great kids and nine amazing grandchildren. Our daughter had some real issues growing up, struggles that were tough for her and our entire family. When she became a mother herself, a mother of five in fact, she had some of her own experiences being a mom. One day one of her former teachers told me he’d seen our daughter in the Dairy Queen with her kids and four siblings that she provides family daycare for. He said he had to stop and tell me how great it was to watch her with all those kids, to see what an amazing mom and young woman she had grown up to be, in spite of all the, and I quote, "crap" she had gone through. He congratulated me and asked, "How did you do it?"
My response, "We never gave up on her. Even when life was hell, I can remember telling her, ‘I will always love you even if I don’t really like you right now’." We persevered. And he was right: We do have an amazing daughter and great grandkids. I’m a lucky woman!