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The Importance of Citizenship for Children in Foster Care

Battista Migration Law Group has a long history of involvement in public advocacy and law reform. In this capacity, Founding Counsel Michael Battista was invited to a closed-door briefing with Senator Mobina Jaffer regarding her promotion of Bill S-235, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The Bill is simple in form, but far-reaching in its implications. It provides Canadian citizenship automatically to people who were formerly in foster care and meet other eligibility criteria. Specifically, the Bill provides citizenship to someone who has been in the care of a child welfare agency or in a foster home for at least one year prior to turning 18 years of age.

It is a bold initiative. Canada recognizes citizenship automatically – that is, without needing to apply for it or meeting residency requirements – only in very limited circumstances. The most common situation of an automatic recognition of citizenship is that of a child of a Canadian who is born outside of Canada. Even this situation has been restricted within the last few years: it is only available to the child of a Canadian who has not themselves been born outside of Canada.

What justifies this bold move? The answer cannot be found without understanding the unique vulnerabilities of children in care who are without status.

Many children and youth who are placed in the child welfare system come to Canada as refugee claimants, or temporary residents whose status depends on their parent. When these children are taken into foster care due to abuse or neglect by their parents, the government effectively takes over the role of parent. The expression “in loco parentis” is commonly used in family law to describe these situations; practically speaking another party assumes the role of parent, in law or in daily reality.

The level of government that assumes the role of parent for children at risk is the provincial government, acting though its children’s aid societies. While the mandate of children’s aid societies is the welfare of children in high-risk situations, they are often provided with inaccurate information regarding the immigration status of children they assist. Therefore, a child can remain in foster parent care for years without status, and once they are old enough to no longer qualify for state support, they are surprised to discover that they have no immigration status. What occurs then is often a scramble to secure immigration status for the person on discretionary “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, in order to avoid deportation.

Battista Migration Law Group first became involved in supporting children’s aid societies to secure immigration status for children in its care several years ago when we filed an action in the Federal Court to “stay” (stop) the deportation of a young adult who had been in foster care for several years. It was only after he turned 18 that Canada Border Services Agency discovered that he had lived most of his life in Canada without status. Luckily, after filing the Federal Court action, the government agreed to halt deportation proceedings, and the young man is living in Canada with secure status today.

However, even in cases where deportation is not a threat, youth who were formerly in foster care face challenges and barriers related to lack of status, including:

- Loss of identity and sense of belonging,

- Uncertain access to education, health care, social services and employment,

- Vulnerability to exploitation, abuse, homelessness and mental health issues.

Any responsible parent would take all necessary steps to ensure the security of their children, including applying for secure immigration status for them. This responsibility should also apply to governments who act in loco parentis when they step into the shoes of a child’s caregivers. Senator Jaffer’s Bill would enshrine in law the responsibility of Canada to provide security of status to vulnerable children and youth who already have pre-existing challenges as they transition into adults. It deserves our support.

To provide support or obtain more information about Bill S-235, please contact Senator Mobina Jaffer at or

Twitter: @SenJaffer

Instagram: @senatorjaffer


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