*Pictured above, Young People’s Advisory Council at the CAF Gala, Teddy Bear Affair. (Tolu, Riley, Shyanne, Brittany, Jemal, Alisha, & Crystal)
Written by Brittany Herbold and Shyanne Nichols, two members of the Children’s Aid Foundation’s Young People’s Advisory Council.
On May 14th, Ontario celebrates Children and Youth in Care Day. It’s a day that young people fought for in order to raise awareness about the challenges, labels, and negative stigma facing young people in and from care. It also acts as a day of celebration for those of us who have experienced care, and our diverse successes, while generating a sense of hope for the future.
In Canada there are 67,000 young people in care, but we are invisible — no one can identify us or the issues we’re facing because the neglect, violence, trauma, and social isolation we experience happens behind closed doors. Every year thousands of young people “age out” of the system at 18 or 19. Most Canadians are not aware that youth transitioning out of care also face poverty; not just financially, but we also suffer a poverty of life skills and relationships that provide unconditional love and guidance. Unlike most of our peers who continue to rely on family support well into adulthood, we are suddenly expected to be able to figure it all out on our own, all while striving to overcome overwhelming trauma and instability. Without trustworthy adults in our lives, we don’t get the chance to be kids who gradually find their way. There’s little room for stumbling, exploring, or having fun. Due to our circumstances of growing up in care, we’ve been told that we won’t amount to much of anything, when all we want to be is something.
Despite all of this, so many of us are working hard to make a difference for kids still in care, so they never have to go through what we did. We have joined the Children’s Aid Foundation Young People’s Advisory Council because we have seen that with key supports, so many young people from care pursue incredible, diverse paths as students, parents, professionals and leaders in our communities. We work hard as child welfare advocates so that 100% — not 40%– of youth in care will graduate high school; so that everyone will have somewhere to go over the holidays or during tough times and avoid facing homelessness; so that everyone has someone reliable to talk to for advice about school, jobs, health and finances. Perhaps most importantly, we are advocates to make sure that young people from care, most of whom lacked the stability, love, and networks that comes with a stable family, are supported to develop the skills to find and build relationships with healthy and loving peers and adults.
We live in a loving, generous province and country. But, few people know about our experiences in care and that, upon aging out, we’re faced with our steepest and loneliest climb yet. We are resilient, but with investment from our community in raising awareness, contributing funds, and building relationships as our mentors, friends, coaches, employers, landlords, and champions, we can be unstoppable. We would have time to be kids, and support to grow — not jump — into adulthood.
This country needs to come together to rally behind the 67,000 invisible children and youth in and from care, and work together to create the conditions through which we all can thrive, not just survive. We need to learn who we are and what we want to become in order to be productive and contributing members of society, and we need the support of our community to do it.