Lucas Medina knows that there’s a problem with Ontario’s foster care system.
After all, he grew up as a Crown ward. And from what he can see, the situation hasn’t changed much in the years since he was a gay teenager trying to survive the system.
“It’s just amazing to me that we’ve failed these youth to this degree,” he says.
That’s why Medina felt compelled to start the first LGBT foster agency in the province.
Five/Fourteen, which Medina launched with his husband, Chad Craig, in Windsor, Ontario, will help place queer and trans foster children into welcoming homes.
“I just needed to do something because nobody else was actually doing anything about it,” Medina says.
While there are few statistics available on how many queer and trans youth are in foster care in Ontario, studies from other jurisdictions show that LGBT youth tend to be overrepresented in the system.
According to a recent report from an advisory committee for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, many queer and trans youth feel that foster care in Ontario simply isn’t safe for them. The committee slammed the province, saying that the lack of programming and initiatives to address the concerns of LGBT youth in care is, “incongruent with Ontario’s values.”
Five/Fourteen now has around 30 youth on a waitlist to be placed with families and over 140 applications from potential foster families in cities like Toronto, Windsor, London and Ottawa.
“We’re actually going to be opening homes in all of those cities by the end of this year,” Craig says.
It’s been a hard road to get the agency off the ground. In Ontario, child welfare and protection is outsourced to independent agencies known as children’s aid societies. These then often further contract out to one of hundreds of specialized service providers.
This labyrinthine system is further complicated by different standards for various regions of the province.
“I defy anyone to look at the government’s licensing system website and figure out how to get licensed,” Craig says.
After many months of fundraising and a failed attempt to get approval in Toronto, Craig and Medina moved to Windsor, where they were able to a license.
The provincial government has also pledged to provide funding for the endeavour.
According to Craig, the response from the LGBT community has been overwhelming.
“A lot of people who were members of our community who heard about us and heard the story, came forward and said that this is what I was looking for,” Craig says.
Craig recalls going to Windsor Pride this year and being approached by a 17-year-old in foster care.
“He walked right up to us and said, ‘You’re the guys from the paper.’ And he started crying and he just hugged us,” Craig says. “And he said, ‘I’m in a group home — how I can I get your service?’”
Craig believes that LGBT communities need to step up and help care for these vulnerable youth.
“We feel pretty strongly that unless we, as part of our communities, take up that role, the government and the public discourse is going to continue to erase us,” he says.
Any youth that need the service of Five/Fourteen can either contact them directly or go through the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.