Developing supports for youth with child welfare experience to thrive in their lives and in leading sector change.
“Maybe us foster kids had these hardships because we are meant for greatness. Meant to boldly bare our experienced hearts. To give of ourselves ‘cause we know what it’s like to be left behind. Maybe we are meant to be the leaders of the future. The poets, artists, movers and shakers, inventors, inspirers, givers and lovers, the next Prime Minister…. Maybe the depth of our experience, both light and dark, is the most important piece in the creating of a better world. ‘Cause I think we know things that no one else knows. Maybe I’m wrong….But maybe I’m right.”
– Stephen, Ontario Children and Youth in Care Day five14Talks spoken word artist and host.
In 2015, leadership at prominent Ontario child welfare agencies—including the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), the Children’s Aid Foundation (CAF) and the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (OPACY) — began discussing the urgent need to better support the young people they engage in their work. There are an estimated 600-900 young people with lived experience who are working for change in child welfare across Ontario at any given time, improving our system and communities. While we work to improve the lives of all young people in and from care, many in these roles are facing particular distress. We as a community, have lost young change-makers to mental health, addiction and suicide—the horrific and heartbreaking consequence of communities lacking adequate supports. The initiating partners heard from their young people* the urgent need for greater supports and they committed to work together to make sure we do better and learn directly from young change-makers how we can.
– The Children’s Aid Foundation, with support from the other initiating partners, led a five-month project to research support gaps and develop support solutions (services, programs and resources) in consultation with young child welfare change-makers and a few of their key agency allies. –
Our province has hundreds of brave and compassionate young people with lived experience of the system who are working hard to lead child welfare change. Despite their impressive accomplishments, these roles take a toll–emotionally, financially and otherwise–which they navigate in addition to all the same barriers facing others from care. So we worked with a few of key partners and 101 young people to develop 7 program, service and resource solutions to address the support they need to thrive in their roles and in their lives, captured in the Bus Ride Home Project report. Stay tuned for updates about unfolding initiatives on social media and read on for more background about the project.
– Project Background –
Why is the project called “The Bus Ride Home?” Leading up to this project, the initiating partners heard from their young people that being a child welfare change-maker who grew up in the system, can perhaps be best captured when imagining what happens for them when they leave behind their advocacy role for the day and go back to their lives, often on a long bus ride home.
Many youth described the bizarre and painful contrast of having a respected role within a supportive community in the child welfare sector and then, outside of that role, feeling like their life is a mess. What is it like to work to improve a system that has affected your life when change takes a long time and you miss out on reaping the benefits? When traumas are relived and shared among peers, and you continue to experience the barriers, stigma, instability and isolation faced by so many from care. How does it feel to head home with all that weighing on your shoulders? How do you keep showing up for tomorrow—never mind your other goals and your own success— when you have to focus on survival? What will happen for the kids if you don’t show up for tomorrow? This project is all about what we need to do to improve the bus ride home and beyond.
*Please note: For the purposes of this project, “young people,” “youth” and “change-makers” refer to anyone who identifies as a young person with lived experience of CAS /government care who spends time working to improve child welfare, unless otherwise specified. They could be 12 or 32, in Kingston or Kenora, in care for 5 months or 15 years, a program participant, volunteer, nominal professional service provider, advisor, board member or staff. We are not strictly defining this category.