Written by Erine Roberts, a CAFDN ambassador and former young person in care.
Every year, countless children become involve with the child welfare system due to various factors, often beyond their control. As much as child welfare’s mandate is to protect and enrich the lives of children, the large influx of children into the system has placed the existing framework under significant financial stress. The result has had huge detrimental outcomes for the children dependant on the system. Firstly, it has resulted in child agencies focusing on providing the basic necessities of life. Secondly, many children fall through the cracks and are often left forgotten. Thirdly, and most importantly, enrichment programs for these children such as funding for extracurricular ventures like camp, are viewed as luxuries rather than necessities. Why are enrichment opportunities critical for children to experience and attend?
Here are 10 reasons:
1. Creates bonds and develops friendships. Many children who are part of the child welfare system have often not had opportunities to create relationships and bonds with people their own age. This has resulted in the emergence of various spectrums of anti-social behaviours, as well as the inability to interact with other young persons. Camp acts as a stepping stone as well as a tool to bridge and alleviate the difficulties children face. Camp does this by having children of similar ages and interests living, working, and interacting on a daily basis. The best part is that friendships garnered through camp might be the first bonds and friendships for these young people. Additionally, many of these newly forged bonds last a lifetime.
2. Normalize lived experience. Depending on a child’s past experiences prior to entering the care system, having a ‘normal’ childhood might not have been something they know. Camp acts as a normalizer for children. Many children go to camp and for the first time get to experience and partake in activities that ‘normal’ and typical children have the privilege of having. This in turn bridges the gap and create a shared lived experience with other children their own age.
3. Access to once in a lifetime experiences. For many children, opportunities to attend camp before enrichment funding from child welfare was something that was out of the question. Access to funding now allows children to go to camp where they have the opportunity to go water skiing, horseback riding, BMX biking, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, participate in silk screening, make ceramic pottery, create crafts, learn speed stacking, learn to play instruments, go rope climbing, learn outdoor living skills and the list goes on. These experiences and skills gained will go a long way in shaping the lives of these children for years to come.
4. Acts as therapeutic sessions. Depending on whether or not a child has had access to various mental health resources, the traumatic experiences of their life may or may not may not have been addressed. Participating in and experiencing the things that they get to can act in lieu of formal therapy. In other words, children can find other avenues to express themselves and their emotions through different activities. For myself personally, I learned to express my feelings through mountain biking. It was always an activity dominated by men and so I was always challenged and forced to prove myself. This instilled within me a drive to be successful and do the best I could do but also proved to be a great way to take out my anger and aggression.
5. Teaches social values, norms, and ‘acceptable’ social behaviours. Depending on the home situations children are coming from, the expected societal “norms” may not be something they possess or are familiar with. Camp is a great platform for children to learn these values from other children, as well as camp counsellors through observation.
6. Gives a sense of stability and routine. No matter what camp a child attends, there are always rules and routines that children must follow. The routines and rules are unchanging, fair, and most importantly consistent. These attributes help ground children from child welfare and allow them to feel confident and safe, which inadvertently starts to transfer into their lives beyond camp. It also allows them to start following rules better in foster care.
7. Be around people who are similar in age. Being around others who are the same age age is very important. Camp provides this opportunity for many children who have never had that before.
8. Break to de-stress. Camp acts as a great de-stressing tool both for the child and the families charged with taking care of children in child welfare. For a short amount of time, a child is taken from their regular environment and immersed in a world filled with fun, laughter, and endless opportunities for personal growth, and lasting friendships.
9. Hone skills and interest in specialized skills. Camp is a tool used to hone and develop skills. Going to specialized camps such as horseback riding, music camp, swim camp, dance camp, basketball camp, art camp, etc., provides opportunities to develop interests. Secondly, it helps children find other individuals with shared interests as well as lay the groundwork for future success.
10. Get to be a child. Most importantly: for the first time in many of these children’s lives they finally have the opportunity to cast aside all worries and be a child.