Christine is 16 years old. She lives with her mother in Torontoand her father lives in Vancouverwith his family.  Christine’s mother suffers from an alcohol addiction, and usually when she is drunk, she gives Christine physical punishment. Also, Christine’s mother is abusing Christine emotionally, talking to her with coarse language and calling her offensive names.  In addition, although Christine’s mother has a job she works at twice a week, she spends her low wage in alcohol and rarely spends it on food. Usually, there is nothing to eat at home.  Christine has tried to talk with her father about living with him, but he always tells Christine that she can not live with him because he has his own family and there is not enough space in his house for her.  Christine attends school full time and she wants to live alone, because she feels unsafe at home. But she has no income to support her financial needs.
Christine does not know how to get financial support.

Ontario Works (OW) is a provincial agency run through municipalities that provides social assistance, including financial benefits and help finding employment.  If you are 16 or 17 years old and you have left home, you can get financial assistance (money) from OW under special circumstances, but if you are under 16 years old and you are not a single parent, you usually cannot get social assistance on your own.

If you want to get social assistance, an Ontario Works worker will usually check that your parents will not let you live with them at home or that it is harmful for you to live there. Also, the Ontario Works worker will want to be sure that your parents will not support you in your financial needs.  In addition, you will need to show that you are a full-time student in high school or another training program.
Christine meets all of these requirements.  So, if Christine needs money to live alone, she might be able to get social assistance (money) from the Ontario Works program.

What kind of assistance will Christine get?

If Christine qualifies for assistance, she will get a monthly allowance. The amount Christine will get can help her to pay for basic expenses such as rent, food and clothing.  She can also get assistance to buy prescription drugs.

Also, Christine might be able to get community maintenance benefits to help her pay the cost of setting up a new place to live (for example, money for a last month’s rent deposit).

How Does Christine Apply?

If Christine wants to receive social assistance, she needs to complete an application and to have an interview with an OW worker who will ask Christine for information to show that she qualifies for assistance.  This will include talking about the things discussed above, like finding out more about why Christine isn’t living with a parent.  When Christine goes to the Ontario Works office, she will have to have a number of documents with her.  Christine can show evidence of her circumstances by getting a letter from her guidance counselor, or another professional (like a social worker) who is familiar with her situation.

Christine has the right to apply to Ontario Works for social assistance.  That means that she can apply even if someone tells her she is ineligible when she goes to apply.  If she is turned down, she should ask for the decision in writing, so that she can try to have the decision reviewed by someone else in the OW office. This is called a “request for internal review”. If Christine is turned down, it will be helpful for her to talk to a lawyer, who can help her with the internal review request.  It is important for Christine to act quickly if she is turned down, as there are short deadlines for a review or an appeal (which is like a review of a review).

This information only applies to someone who is 16 or 17 years old – if you are 18, different rules apply, even if you are still a full time student.

To learn more about leaving home, check out this JFCY pamphlet

To learn more about social assistance, including Ontario Works, check out CLEO’s guide to social assistance.  Or, check out this government of Ontario website.

If you are 16 or 17 and living on your own in Ontario, and you are having trouble applying for or receiving OW, you can contact a JFCY lawyer.  Call JFCY at 416-920-1633, or toll-free from outside the GTA at 1-866-999-5329. 
Thanks to Lina Maria Sanchez, a PLE Team Member and JFCY volunteer, for writing this post. Lina Maria was a lawyer in Columbia before moving to Canada.  Legal information was reviewed by JFCY.