Education / skills training funding for kids in care – By Ray Hudson

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Stephanie Cadieux. Photo: Ray Hudson

Youth Education Assistance Fund

Stephanie Cadieux, Minister for Children & Family Development, and MLA for Surrey Cloverdale. Photo: Ray Hudson
Stephanie Cadieux, Minister for Children & Family Development, and MLA for Surrey Cloverdale. Photo: Ray Hudson

This past week Education Minister Mike Bernier announced that thirty-thousand applications had now been received for the Training and Education Savings Grant (TESG) less than one year since the program was initiated.

The program is an effort by the provincial government to bolster families saving for their children’s post-secondary education and skills training. For the average family with children born since 2006, government is assisting them by depositing $1200 per child in their RESP.

To find out how it is working, Ray Hudson spoke with Stephanie Cadieux, Minister for Children & Family Development, and MLA for Surrey Cloverdale.

“It’s easy to do. Families can set up their RESPs at the bank,” said Cadieux, “and we then deposit the TESP money in the account for them. It provides a great start that the parents can contribute to over time. We want to make sure that the money goes toward the child’s education and the RESP is the federally registered plan that people can set up. Once they have the RESP established, they can apply to have the $1200 put into it.”

But the question arises concerning families already receiving government assistance. Does this additional funding impact their original funding in any way? Cadieux said that it doesn’t.

Both RESPs and RDSPs, (Registered Disability Savings Plans) are exempt incomes so you can have savings in each that are not counted against your eligibility for assistance when funds are withdrawn to pay for special equipment, living or educational or skills training expenses. BC is the first province to exempt this.

The best way to help folks out of poverty is ultimately an education,” Cadieux said, “so we want to encourage that kids can compete for good careers. To ensure that low income kids have that opportunity to have some dollars to go to university is really important.”

One area that is more complex concerns children who are in the care of government. They don’t have a family unit to set up the RESP.

“We have a fund called YEAF, the Youth Education Assistance Fund,” said Cadieux, “which now provides money for youth in care who are accessing post-secondary education. We’ve just recently made some adjustments to the fund to make support for kids even better and for longer periods of time.”

“When the TSEG program was going to take off we wanted to make sure it would benefit our kids in care as well, but the requirement to set up an RESP was a barrier. They don’t have parents to do that for them. Tracking the individuals over time would be burdensome, as kids may be in and out of care; particularly if they’re adopted. So what we did was enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education to set up a fund called the Learning Fund for Young Adults so that former youth-in-care, from ages seventeen to thirty-five, will be able to access grants for post-secondary or skills training. This will start in 2023 when the first cohort of kids turn seventeen and access the TESG. Cadieux said the TSEG program is essentially a group RESP for these children, funded entirely by the province because the fund is not currently eligible to receive Federal contributions as is the RESP.”

“We are continuing to encourage them (the federal government) to contribute as well,” said Cadieux. “But we put money in to establish the fund, with an annual contribution that will go in from Finance for the kids that are in care. We will augment that so we can ensure there is a good pool to draw from.”

Cadieux said that the size of the fund will depend entirely on what the government can contribute above and beyond the TESP money, adding the goal is to ensure there will be enough so kids-in-care will be able to access money for post–secondary or skills development education.”

Cadieux was asked if there was anything in the legislation to protect the fund against raiding from future governments.

“The fund will be held outside of government,” she said, “established at the Victoria Foundation, and each year we will put in a grant which the foundation will administer, so I assume it will be pretty safe. All sides of the house will want to see kids succeed, so I think it would be a huge mistake for any government or individual to interfere with that fund. The best chance to succeed is through education. We’ve already put $500,000 into the fund on top of the TESP money and so the way we look to support it over the years will be as a parent would support an RESP: put money in and have that money matched by the federal government, and that will be our hope as well.”