Did you know May 14th is Children and Youth in Care Day in Ontario? It’s a day to stand together with young people with experience in the child welfare system and to commit to making their futures brighter.
Each year, Children’s Aid Foundation celebrates May 14th through five14 Talks to inspire change. With this year’s event being held on May 11, 2017, it’s an exciting day bringing together people committed to making things better for kids in care. Learn more about five14 Talks.
Interested? You can take part too! We will be live streaming the event. Register here!
Meet a five14 Speaker: Dylan Cohen
Dylan Cohen is Indigenous, a youth worker, community organizer, and former youth in care. Dylan founded 25not21, a youth-driven movement challenging child welfare policy in Manitoba. Dylan is a graduate of the Conflict Resolution Studies program at the University of Winnipeg, and is focused on creating systemic change for children and youth in care.
Why 25not21? What does the name mean?
25not21 is a youth-driven advocacy group that seeks to expand current extension of care programs in Manitoba. Eligible youth stop receiving services completely at age 21. If you look at many studies done on youth in care in Canada, they point to 25 being a better exit point in terms of psychosocial development, mental health, education, and housing stability. Many of our out-of-care peers are finding supports from their parents until age 25, demonstrated even by Statistics Canada. With that in mind, and the fact that youth with child welfare experience struggle more than their peers, it makes sense to extend services further, with 25 as a good start.
What inspired you to create 25not21?
The death of Phoenix Sinclair, a toddler who died while under the supposed supervision of the Manitoba child welfare system, was a turning point in my understanding of child welfare. Her death led to a multi-million dollar inquiry that lasted several years and examined failures in the child welfare system. Aging out came up repeatedly throughout the report, as Phoenix’s parents were from care. My first reading of the recommendation to age 25 came from this report. When my own government was recommending this for myself and my peers, I felt the impetus to do something about it.
As a young person leaving care, what are things that you didn’t have that might be taken for granted by other young people?
I think the big thing was having a number to call. For me personally, I am relatively organized and have my own safety net of peers and resources that I’ve developed, but without my own work I would be a degree or two from homelessness. While my peers can call up their parents for emergency money or a couch, I don’t have that, I only have the connections I developed outside of the system. There’s only my bank account standing between me and homelessness.
To add, cultural identity remains a very important part of growing up that youth in care often do not find available. In general young people are trying to find belonging. We also need resources around us so we can learn more about where we come from and who we are. My Indigenous identity came out most strongly when I could connect with my experiences in the child welfare system. Eventually I found ceremony and traditional practice that have become important parts of who I am. That’s not something that’s usually fostered in youth in care.