“Young people coming through care are often not taught about taking care of themselves; a lot of the times they’ve jumped from group home to group home, foster home to foster home, or have been in shelters, and have been accustomed to just living for the next day. Their daily goal is being able to see the next morning; they’re not very concerned with long-term goals.”
For many young people in care, and those who have transitioned from care to independent living, self-care and well-being are incredibly important. Whether it’s having access to mental health supports or being educated about nutrition, how to cook, or even do laundry, many of the basic life skills that other youth grow-up with access to, are simply not available to young people involved with the child welfare system. And, once they transition to adulthood, this lack of opportunity and knowledge can significantly hinder their stability.
The Children’s Aid Foundation is committed to providing funding for self-care and well-being programs — one of our areas of greatest need. We chatted with the Pape Adolescent Resource Centre’s Alex Benn, an adolescent centre worker, to learn more about the critical need to support this area.
CAF: Why is self-care and well-being support important for youth involved with child welfare?
Alex Benn: Self-care supports are incredibly important because of the lack of support that youth get when they transition out of care. A lot of them might have been involved with a psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellor, or a life coach while coming through care, but after age 18 or 19 [these supports] are removed. The youth just don’t have the same access to benefits that they had when they were under 18. Many of the youth who are leaving care have mental health issues that have never been addressed, and so it becomes quite difficult for them to get a grasp on their situations, because nobody is supporting them. So it takes another resource — like the Pape Adolescent Resource Centre — to help them.
CAF: How can lack of self-care and well-being education effect young people from care?
Alex Benn: Young people coming through care are often not taught about taking care of themselves; a lot of the times they’ve jumped from group home to group home, foster home to foster home, or have been in shelters, and have been accustomed to just living for the next day. Their daily goal is being able to see the next morning; they’re not very concerned with long-term goals. And, what comes with that, is an inability to see why they should be eating right, how exercise plays a role in keeping healthy, and even how to handle stress. Often the meals they’re consuming are not great; many of these kids just don’t have an understanding about nutrition and what they can afford with their budget; a lot of the times it’s just the wrong food. Addressing hygiene issues and being well groomed… many of these youth aren’t concerned with that, they’re just trying to survive.
CAF: How does this effect their transition into adulthood?
Alex Benn: Often things like not knowing how to dress for work, for example, play a role in their self-esteem, because they may not be able to get into career roles that they thought they could get into. How you dress and present yourself; no one is having that conversation with them, and they might not be considered for it. Dental coverage is another huge thing; many of our kids, once they leave care, they struggle to find adequate support.
CAF: Why is it important for organizations, like the Children’s Aid Foundation, to continue to provide self-care and well-being funding?
Alex Benn: If young people from care want to go forward in job opportunities, or even just want to join a team at school, self-care and well-being is so important because it encourages self-worth and how these young people value themselves. It’s such an important area to fund. There are certain medications that youth might need, that aren’t covered by their benefits after leaving care, that funding is needed for. For instance, I knew a young lady who suffered from migraines but couldn’t take psychotropic drugs, so instead took naturopathic medication. But, because her after-care benefits didn’t cover these products, she didn’t have the money for them. She became very depressed, locked herself in her apartment, and as soon as we were able to get her the help and support she needed, it was a night-and-day change.