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New mentorship program addresses educational outcome gap for children and youth in Canada's child welfare system

BMO Financial Group and Government of Ontario contribute to Children's Aid Foundation of Canada & Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada's Big Steps to Success program with crucial investment of $5 million

TORONTO, Feb. 3, 2022 /CNW/ - Children's Aid Foundation of Canada and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada are launching Big Steps to Success, a new national mentorship program aimed at improving educational outcomes for young people involved with the child welfare system. In Canada, less than half of young people involved with child welfare graduate from high school (46 per cent), compared with the general population (83 per cent).

Big Steps to Success is available in Victoria, Saskatoon, Toronto and North Bay for children and youth in care aged 7 to 14, a critical early intervention window when young people are more likely to be receptive to adult mentors and experience long-term academic benefits. Mentoring will take place at school, in the community, and in cases where it is not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, adaptations will be made to allow mentors and mentees to meet virtually. Youth will be referred to the program by the local child welfare agency or social worker overseeing their care.

"A new approach is necessary in order to close the achievement gap that children in care have experienced for over a century," says Valerie McMurtry, President and CEO, Children's Aid Foundation of Canada, the country's leading charity dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth and families involved in the child welfare system. "Through philanthropic investment from the private sector, government support and participation of local child welfare agencies, we are creating a community of practise dedicated to advancing the academic success and long-term stability of young people involved with the child welfare system."

Children and youth living in government care often lack unconditional love or support of a consistent positive adult role model. This significant gap can have dire consequences on their confidence, self-worth, education and ability to move forward in their lives as adults. Without a high school diploma and consistent guidance, young people involved in the child welfare system can face a lifetime of underemployment, low income and lost potential.

Research has shown that the involvement of a trusted and positive mentor can promote social and academic success in young people involved with the child welfare system. Creating access to nurturing adult mentors can help young people engage academically and allow them to stay on track so that they can graduate from high school, one of the most critical predictors of their future success.

"When potential is ignited early in life, young people are better able to face and navigate life's adversities," says W. Matthew Chater, President and CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, the only non-profit social organization dedicated to helping enrich young people's lives through the power of one-to-one mentoring. "Our data shows that for every dollar invested, there is a 23-fold return. We are proud to collaborate with partners like Children's Aid Foundation of Canada, BMO and the Government of Ontario to create a positive social impact and equalize opportunities for youth experiencing the child welfare system."

This collaborative approach to helping young people at-risk is made possible through a $2.5 million gift from BMO Financial Group (BMO) to provide mentorship opportunities for children and youth nationally and through a $2.2 million investment from the Government of Ontario to implement the program in the province, with a focus on reaching Indigenous communities. Big Steps to Success will also receive an additional $300,000 in funding, donated by BridgeGreen Fund.

"This first-of-its-kind mentorship program is a high impact way we can remove barriers to social and economic inclusion, close the achievement gap and support better futures for one of society's most vulnerable groups," said Darryl White, Chief Executive Officer, BMO Financial Group. "At BMO, we're committed to Growing the Good in business and life, and we're proud to invest alongside our charitable and government partners in collaborative approaches that build strong communities."

Mentors will undergo specialized training focused on the unique needs of children and youth in care. Children and their mentors will be supported by a mentor match team consisting of a child's social worker, school liaisons and program coordinators from local participating partners. Navigators embedded in child welfare agencies will also identify other education-related resources of benefit and will maintain contact with young people who move between different foster placements and school settings to ensure continuity of their participation in Big Steps to Success.

"Our government is committed to removing barriers and supporting the youth of Ontario in realizing their full potential. Having a positive mentor to inspire and guide young people can greatly contribute to their success," says Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues.

Children's Aid Foundation of Canada and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada are committed to monitoring and evaluating the design, delivery and outcomes of Big Steps to Success. Evaluation findings will be shared with participating local agencies and other youth-serving organizations in order to advance research and strengthen our collective efforts to improve the well-being of young people involved in child welfare in Canada. 

About Children's Aid Foundation of Canada

Children's Aid Foundation of Canada is our country's leading charity dedicated to standing up for children and families involved in the child welfare system and standing alongside youth with lived experience. We raise and grant funds and deliver a wide range of high-impact programs and services in partnership with 104 child- and youth-serving agencies across the country. Last year, we supported over 46,500 children and youth and 12,300 families. Find out more at 

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada enables life-changing mentorship relationships to ignite the power and potential of young people. Comprised of 95+ member agencies serving more than 1,100 communities across Canada, each year we help over 41,000 young people access the transformative benefits of mentoring relationships with caring, trained volunteers. Our national organization provides services and programs to our membership agencies to assist them in their work with parents, caregivers, school communities, mentees and volunteers. 

SOURCE BMO Financial Group

For further information: Lisa Lipkin, Lisa Lipkin Communications for Children's Aid Foundation of Canada,, 416-988-4189; Marina Joseph, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada,; 1(800) 263-9133, ext. 24; Kelsey Rutherford, BMO Financial Group,, 416-867-3996