Camp is not only a meaningful experience for thousands of young people across Canada, but for many a rite of passage. Learning wilderness survival skills and how to steer a canoe is only one element of the journey — it’s also an opportunity to forge friendships, test limits, build self-esteem, and uncover passions.
Janie Ryan, director of Resources for Children and Youth with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST), has worked within Toronto’s child welfare sector for over 26 years and has come to understand the positive impact that opportunities like camp can have on children and youth in the child welfare system.
“For children living away from their family of origin, participating in these types of activities helps to normalize the experience of being in care,” explains Ryan. “That’s really important for children, that they’re able to participate and be part of those kinds of experiences that other children and youth in the community are enjoying and involved in.” Ryan adds that the normalization of their day-to-day lives through these activities can enhance their sense of self and a belief in their own abilities.
“I never had the opportunity to go to camp, so that wasn’t something that was available to me,” she says. “It was certainly something that I wanted for my own children — it gave them the opportunity to be away from home, to have that experience of being more independent, to meet new friends, and experience different types of peer groups. It also provides an opportunity for kids to have different kinds of role models and mentors; relationships that they have with their counsellors and instructors can be at times really pivotal in what they see their options might be.”
Communicating regularly with the foster parent community in Toronto, Ryan says that “first and foremost our foster parent community really supports camp opportunities for kids.” She adds:
“I’m not so sure that you can actually measure what it means for a child to go to camp because I think that experience, whether it’s a week or two weeks, whether it’s overnight or day camp, those kind of experiences can be pretty impactful on a child’s sense of what they can do in the future and the relationships they build.”
The Children’s Aid Foundation works with agencies like CAST to provide funding for kids who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend camp.
“Kids get connected to camp and become part of that community — they’re a member,” says Ryan. “You see kids having camp experiences that could go on to strike an interest for them or lead them to a path for career or a different kind of academic achievement,” she adds. “It can lead them through different experiences as they mature, so they go as campers, then they go as leaders in training and developing leadership abilities, and then they go as counsellors themselves.”