SOS Children’s Village expanding in Surrey to help youth aging out of foster care

Executive director of SOS Children
Executive director of SOS Children's Village B.C. Douglas Dunn stands in one of the secondary suites being built to be used to help youth aging out of foster care gain independence.
— image credit: Amy Reid

SURREY — Walking past the polished Newton home, you’d never guess a six-day-old crack-addicted baby had just moved in.

You also wouldn’t guess the home was one of 12 in Surrey custom-built for foster care by SOS Children’s Village.

Blending right in, several homes in this neighbourhood house foster families, giving foster children – who either suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or were drug-addicted at birth – a chance to be part of a real family.

The international organization already houses about four dozen children in the 12 local homes, including the infant that joined a home this week, and helps hundreds more through its outreach programs.

(PICTURED: The Surrey "village," shown left, shows paths connecting homes and a playground. The property also has a communal building for therapy, entertainment and more.)

But SOS is now expanding to better help a particularly vulnerable segment of the population – children aging out of foster care once they turn 19.

Executive director of SOS Children’s Village B.C. Douglas Dunn said the tragic realities of this circumstance are no secret.

“They show up with knives in their pocket ready to commit suicide,” he said.

Eighty to 90 per cent of the kids aging out at 19 end up on welfare within six months, 46 per cent are involved in the criminal justice system within two years of their 18th birthday, and less than 20 per cent graduate high school compared to the provincial average of about 80 per cent, said Dunn.

Also shocking is 66 per cent of homeless people identified as having been in foster care in a study by United Way.

To help tackle the epidemic, SOS is building secondary suites in five of its Surrey homes for youth aged 16 to 24 to help them establish some sense of independence.

Once built, the transition suite program will allow youth six months to a year to develop life skills, participate in work shops and therapy, all while becoming part of the “village” community.

“We’re coming up with a transition to adulthood, structured program,” said Dunn.

“We already have a team on the street that does one-on-one work walking alongside youth but that is more of a crisis, homelessness, emergency response.”

He said many of those youth would benefit from a more structured approach and that’s where the suites come in.

And they won’t leave empty handed when their time is up.

“Most kids leave foster care without anything other than a few clothes. Over their time here they will earn the apartment,” explained Dunn. “By the end of their stay, everything in there, the bed, dressers, the drawers, the computer, the microwave, everything will be theirs.”

He added, “That’s a big psychological thing.”

Dunn noted there’s 60 to 80 homeless youth in Surrey at any given time.

“So to have five to 10 a year going through our program, that’s an eight to 10 per cent reduction in Surrey. It’s not going to solve it but it will reduce it.”

The project had been delayed as SOS came up against some technicalities at city hall.

When SOS subdivided the properties, there was apparently a “no secondary suite” restriction written in.

“So it took nearly a year to extinguish that. But everyone was very helpful, the city didn’t put up any barriers. We’re glad we finally got through that,” said Dunn.

But the work isn’t over.

The organization has been running a capital campaign – Say Yes to the Village, No to the Streets! – since June 2014 and has raised $210,000 to date, including two anonymous donations of $100,000 and $60,000. But another $40,000 is needed.

The final push for those dollars will continue this year.

It’s expected the suites will be finished in eight to 10 weeks.

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