Written by Kristy Graves, a member of our Young People’s Advisory Council and former young person in care.
For almost two years now I have been blessed to be part of the Young Person’s Advisory Council (YPAC) with the Children’s Aid Foundation. This council is the brainchild of the former CEO who wanted to give youth a chance to have a voice within the agency. After interviewing, I was given a spot on this newly formed council and have held my spot since. As a council we offer insight to CEOs and higher-level personnel on budget planning and service gaps and help them get a personal glimpse into the lives youth in care. I also act as a CAF ambassador and attend events on behalf of the agency in order to meet with prospective/current donors and help them to understand where their generous donations are going. During these events, I have engaged audiences of up to 300 people as an ambassador and advocate for diverse youth voices to be heard within the organization
My position on YPAC has allowed me to build confidence in the role as an advocate and to give a voice to scores of youth who previously did not have one. It’s an honour that I take seriously.
I may stand on a podium and tell my story, but what I am really telling is our story. A story that saw childhoods stolen in the heat of violence and confidence shattered with a lack of love. A story of intergenerational trauma and of endless cycles of poverty and neglect.
Each time I open my mouth it is my voice, but it reverberates with the tales and strength of so many who have come before me, and unfortunately those who will come after me. It is empowering, and yet terrifying. I want to accurately paint a picture of what it is like for youth in care but I never want it be about just me.
I strive to learn from others about the differences and similarities between our stories. There are so many colours in the kaleidoscope of life in the child welfare system and this why I love that I am not a singular spokesperson, but a member of a council. Each person beside me on the council is a friend and ally who strengthens me. But, they also challenge me. Each story is different, each heartache true, and this is how we learn. We open each other’s eyes to new thoughts, positions, perspectives.
From one I learn of nights spent in jail, from another I learn of being a newcomer to a country. From my left I hear stories of abuse, from my right I hear stories of neglect.
It is these voices I try to convey every time I speak, be it to an audience of 100 or a coffee date of one.