Why do we enforce the most stringent ‘adult entry’ rules on the most vulnerable?

We all know that Canada is an aging society.

But how many of us know that the median age in Canada was 26 in 1967 and is now age 42[1]?

Most of us are living longer and having smaller families.

Yet we don’t seem to stop to think too much about what an older Canada means for the extensions in the stages of our lives.

Much has been written about the incredible lengthening of old  age in our society. People who retired at 65 in  1967 typically lived into their mid-seventies. Now they live a decade or more longer.

Our working lives used to end at age 65 but mandatory retirement laws have been scrapped and our federal government is postponing the receipt of Old Age Security to age 67.

And no one is surprised by the phenomenon of  adult children living at home, less able to pay for expensive post-secondary educations or a new home or to secure a good paying job without an advanced diploma. Clearly, the years of our childhood and youth have been extended and moved forward just like the other phases of our lives.

So if we have postponed and elongated every phase of life in Canada and everyone knows it, why do we still have laws that pretend that adulthood starts between ages 16 and 21? Why do the ages of adulthood stay frozen in our laws?

And more to the point, why do we enforce the most stringent ‘adult entry’ rules on the most vulnerable youth among us:  crown wards (foster children) who do not live with their parents?

Maybe this happened in Ontario because the Family Law Reform Act (later the Family Law Act) was written by lawmakers in 1977 when the median age of Canada was 29, thirteen years younger than   now. That law set the age of withdrawing from parental control at age 16 where it stands today.

And it was in 1994, when the median age of Canada was 36, six years younger than now, that Ontario provided Extended Care and Maintenance (ECM) to crown wards up to the age of 21.

Eighteen long years have passed since then and obligations for support have changed over the years. A parent now has a support obligation to provide  for an unmarried child attending post-secondary education. Such education can typically extend up to age 25[2] for the majority of students.

But curiously, in the instance of Crown wards where the province is legally in the place of the parent, the Ontario government does not understand itself to have the same obligations it places on parents on itself. It will not provide ECM beyond  age 21 while telling the province’s natural and adoptive parents that they must do more.

One aspect of leadership is ‘leading by example’. Ontario should choose  it.

But not just to be consistent with the laws it enforces.

It should do so to recognize that our life stages have all been postponed and elongated  and to abandon the fiction that the course of our lives in Canada are the same as they were 35 years ago.

Twenty five is the new 21.  Let’s recognize it with the extension of ECM in Ontario to 25.

John Stapleton

May 13, 2012