Written by Wendy Hayes, CAF ambassador and former young person in care.
There’s a number that gets tossed around a lot, and it usually sits around 8,000. That’s about the number of youth permanently in care in Ontario alone. So when I look back on my experience as a youth in the foster system, knowing this number, I have to ask myself how in the world I felt so alone.
Don’t get me wrong — there were always people. Some were a good influence on me, some not so much. There were workers, a foster family, and friends. Yet I held on to this alienation. I moved in the middle of grade 8, and that’s not something that people just let go. They ask questions – harmless enough. “What school did you come from? Where did you live before? Why didn’t you finish the year there? Why did you move?”
When I moved into care it was to a smaller town, which meant people knew right away that I was a foster kid because they knew who I lived with. It was sort of hard to hide. I had a couple people that I was friends with, though they were the “bad influence” type. I got into some trouble and I remember the staff who dealt with me at school thinking they should of “seen it coming from someone like me”. No one saw it as, “hey – she’s going through some hard times, maybe we should talk to her about it”. I was reprimanded on all sides for the behaviour.
Besides the staff, there was one girl that I didn’t get along with. She liked to pick fights, and every time she targeted me a lot of her insults were centred on me being a foster-child. Everything that was ‘wrong’ with me was due to this status. I wouldn’t even call the bullying I suffered at this time of my life severe (in fact, the worst of it was right before I got taken from home). I know a lot of youth who have experienced far worse from their peers, but it was adding salt to a very fresh wound in a very confusing time of doubt about my life.
It was hard to question if my parents loved me, and this girl always seemed to think that they didn’t — to her I was an unwanted child.
I’ve been learning a lot about this sort of thing, and it turns out for someone with a history of complex trauma – the good behaviour rewarded, and unwanted behaviour punished, doesn’t actually work very well (I could go on about this topic extensively). I think I would have benefited far more greatly from a little bit of grace, and some support at the time. Did anybody ask me “how can we make this transition easier on you?” Nope!
Though I know I wasn’t the only one with a troubled home life, wasn’t the only one trying to claw my way through a confusing adolescence, I truly did feel alone. Of course my parents always loved me – and they always will! I know that now, unfortunately they were both just at a time in their own lives where they were not able to be safe care givers.
I felt like no one understood. This is a startling thought considering I was 1/8,000.
So I found other ways to relate. I started writing, I listened to music. I searched for bits and pieces of understanding in a world where no one else seemed to really get it.
Recently, I discovered Shane Koyczan’s To This Day, a poem that can be watched in the video above. Being bullied throughout a good portion of my school career, and being ‘different’ I can relate to this piece a lot. It’s strange, that even though I didn’t write this, it feels so personal to me that sharing it with someone almost makes me nervous. The impact that it has made on my life is profound. I am not sure what it would have meant to me a couple years ago, when I was lacking the ability to reflect because I was still entrenched in my experience. Regardless, I hope that youth of all experience may stumble across this poem in times of struggle and find strength in it. Know that they are not alone, that someone understands, and that if they hang on, life might turn out alright for them after all.
“we are graduating members from the class of we made it, not the faded echoes of voices crying out names will never hurt me”
If nothing else, I know that it can create a level of understanding in the people on the outside looking in.