Kristy, this year’s fabulous Suitcase Party ambassador and young professional, also happens to be a former youth in care. In anticipation of our exclusive party, happening this Thursday, February 25th, we caught-up with Kristy to chat about her experiences in care and plans for the future.
1. As a youth that grew-up in care, what was your experience like leaving school and entering the workforce?
I think that my experience was of terrible naivety. I worked really hard in school to volunteer places, choose good placements, work in social work, etc., so that when I graduated, I already had experience in the field. I tried to vary this experience and work with multiple populations, different types of organizations, etc. and thought that because of this, and my lived experience, I would graduate and immediately get a job at a CAS. I’m qualified, I have a wealth of inside knowledge and understanding, and have great contacts. I would pay off my debt in no time, wouldn’t I? Here I am, almost two years after graduating. I have yet to get a job in my field despite hundreds and hundreds of applications, and I am still paying off my school debt. Naive.
2. How important was education to your future/career?
Education is paramount to my future and career. Education and intelligence have long been the things by which I largely define myself, because I knew that these would help me overcome my past. Education would set me apart from my biological family, and would help me move on to more positive outcomes, and break the cycle I had been born into. Even now, I pursue education in the realm of American Sign-Language classes and Deaf Cultural Studies in an attempt to reach a new population, and to further my resume.
“I think that you can age out of the system, and no longer be an active foster kid, but your time in care, and the reasons you entered care, are still with you. This can affect your drive, ability, and capability of holding down and securing employment.”
3. What are some challenges that youth from care face in relation to finding and securing employment?
I think that especially when you’re young (high school age and such), it’s hard to secure employment when people may look at your education or your living status. If you have moved to many different foster homes, your record will indicate many different high schools, and potentially many short-term jobs. Although this is out of the control of youth, employers can see this as a sign of instability and unreliability. This means employers may not wish to take a chance on you.
I think the second consideration is the ongoing battle that youth still face. Just because we reach adulthood and graduate the system, does not mean our struggles stop. Our families may be relying on us to be the parent, despite our age. Our parents are still struggling with drug abuse, or could be physically/emotionally harming us if they are still in our lives. We may have residual traumas that arise and affect our work, or mental health issues, etc. I think that you can age out of the system, and no longer be an active foster kid, but your time in care, and the reasons you entered care, are still with you. This can affect your drive, ability, and capability of holding down and securing employment.
Finally, the third consideration to this, is employers that may know about, or find out about your past. For example, I put my time on the Young People’s Advisory Council (YPAC) on my resume because it’s great experience. If any employer looks up YPAC, they understand that I gained my position there on merit, but also because I am a former youth in care. This makes social service agencies in particular hesitant to hire me. Am I too close to the situation? Am I going to be too outspoken about things and create waves? Do I still struggle with x,y, z as listed in point 2 which could affect my work? Despite their mandate to help kids like myself, they are often judging before they have even met me.
“All of your peers are your age, educated, and have some experience. This makes it increasingly difficult for us to gain jobs, and then to advance within them. There are too many educated workers, and not enough jobs which creates a large bracket of underemployment and unemployment. I feel like more than ever, we are the generation that graduates and can’t get into our chosen fields, and thus ends up in menial work…”
4. What are some of the challenges that Millennials in the workforce face?
Statistically speaking, we are the largest generation, and as of yet the most educated one. This means that unlike generations in the past, your education really means squat unless it is extensive (PhD). All of your peers are your age, educated, and have some experience. This makes it increasingly difficult for us to gain jobs, and then to advance within them. There are too many educated workers, and not enough jobs which creates a large bracket of underemployment and unemployment. I feel like more than ever, we are the generation that graduates and can’t get into our chosen fields, and thus ends up in menial work (serving, bar tending, retail jobs, etc) not out of desire, but out of a lack of income options. The degree you have still feels like it was a necessary thing, but it’s no longer the door opener and attention grabber that it was for generations before. Pair this with the fact that we pay more for our education and living expenses than ever before, creating an average student debt of $30,000 and you have an underemployed, stressed out, anxiety ridden generation. We are a generation of competitive winners who have not been raised on “participation ribbons” and an “everyone is a winner” mentality but rather a competitive dog eat dog head space that means we do not know how to fail, and this brings about our stress, anxiety, and depression in today’s job market and work force.
I think the lack of understanding from baby boomers also largely contributes to this stress and depression. As a generation we are pushing “life milestones” i.e getting married, buying a house, having kids etc later and later. When baby boomers interact with us, their disbelief is apparent and their distaste often expressed. “You’re x years old and you don’t own a house?” “You’re x years old and are JUST thinking about kids?” There is no credence given to the fact that jobs are competitive and hard to come buy, the cost of living is at an all time high, houses and kids cost more, and downpayments are out of this world. So now not only are we facing a feeling of personal failure and inadequacy, but we have to face a societal one as well.
5. Why is it important that young adults participate in philanthropy and invest in social causes, like supporting vulnerable youth in Canada?
I think our world is at a critical tipping point where we are long past discussions and plans, and into a time of necessary actions in order to save us all. It sounds very doomsday of me yes, but unfortunately we are constantly blasted with negative imagery and statistics to support this. Just a few weeks ago it was announced that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish…how can we just stand by? This is no longer a consideration of simply providing a better world for future generations but for the one we currently live in as well. In 2050 I will only be 59, and I damn well want to swim in an ocean described by people like Jacques Cousteau. Unfortunately our generation and our future generations are left with the immense responsibility of rectifying everything from past generations in order to save our planet and this will not come through discussion or “likes” on Facebook. It will come through financial contribution, innovative ideas, and grunt work.
Aside from our planet, is saving the people, and culture on it. We have a responsibility to the people who share this earth not based off of age, or status, but out of humanity. To be human is to help one another and love one another. People are often left in situations beyond their control, and I think we have a human responsibility to help this in any way we can. I can complain I am “broke” all I want from the comfort of my clean, heated apartment with running water, clothes on my body, and food in my belly, but the reality is that I am rich compared to a majority of the world. I think whether you have a little, or a lot (though especially so if you have a lot) you should want to give and help your fellow man.
This is especially true for helping vulnerable children and youth in Canada. Children and youth are the victims, the by products, of other peoples poor choices, substance abuse, etc. Through no fault of their own they are disadvantaged at early ages, left to play an eternal game of catch-up in comparison to their peers. Given the struggles millennials already face (see answer 4), this can have an extremely detrimental affect on their outcomes. Countless studies have shown the positive impact that things like scholarships, mentors, recognition etc. plays in the lives of children and youth who come from vulnerable backgrounds. Investing in them now, helps produce well adjusted adults who break the ccyles of poverty and abuse they were born into, and go onto become functioning, contributing members of society. Investments in causes such as this help the giver feel they are doing good with their time/finances, and help the children/youth succeed and change their lives. What is there to lose?
“Countless studies have shown the positive impact that things like scholarships, mentors, recognition etc. plays in the lives of children and youth who come from vulnerable backgrounds. Investing in them now, helps produce well adjusted adults who break the ccyles of poverty and abuse they were born into, and go onto become functioning, contributing members of society.”
6. As a young professional, what are your future goals?
As a young professional I want to do the following:
1) Gain employment in my field and begin truly helping people. I am currently furthering my education in order to become an interpreter and help the deaf community, specifically deaf foster kids and children of deaf adults. This population is notoriously underserved and I want to help change that.
2) To move-up in my career, and do more. I want to be on a constant upwards trajectory that sees me furthering myself, and becoming a stronger more desirable asset to whatever company I work for.
3) Have children and provide them with the life and opportunities I never had. To be a good wife and mom and help them succeed while teaching them the value of hard work. I want my kids to become thoughtful, well-rounded individuals who are socially conscious, and care about the people and world around them. I feel my kids and my heart will be the two strongest legacies I ever leave.
7. What message would you like to impart on Suitcase Party guests?
No amount is too small and no amount goes unnoticed. You may think that your time, your energy, your finances are small things for you to give, but they are making BIG impacts on the kids you are helping. Knowing there are people out there who believe in you, who cares? That’s the pivotal moment a child/youth in care begins to have a small spark of self confidence and self-worth. That’s the moment their attitudes and goals will begin to change, and you will have had a hand in creating the person they become. I would not be the person I am today without the Children’s Aid Foundation, the countless donors who believed in me and provided guidance, scholarships etc. I am thankful for every single person who has helped me along the way.