BRIGITTE, 24, is a recipient of Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada scholarship funding, and currently enrolled at Tyndale University College and Seminary. After experiencing ongoing abuse at home, she entered foster care between the ages of five and six before returning home to her biological family. At age 14, she re-entered care and lived in group homes. Transitioning between group home placements, BRIGITTE struggled with her mental health and feelings of hopelessness. Eventually, she was able to build her self-esteem, move into subsidized housing for women, and enrol in post-secondary school.
*The opinions and views expressed in this article are that of the youth in profile, and not necessarily reflective of the official opinion or position of Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada.
I experienced substance abuse and self-harm while in care, but my biggest challenge was my deep sense of hopelessness and not feeling like a human being.
“[As a child], both of my parents were abusive towards me. My mom had abusive tendencies and was also being abused by my father. Eventually, my school found out and intervened through the Children’s Aid Society. [My first experience in care] was very toxic; it was not the loving environment I needed, and I became filled with hatred […] I blamed myself for what had happened.”
“When I went back to live with my biological family, when I was about six, the abuse continued when my father came back within a few months, even though he wasn’t supposed to be there. So, although the abuse in care stopped, it started happening again at my biological family’s home. My father was an alcoholic, and very abusive. When I was 14, I was going out of control. I started picking up drinking; a lot of my friends were drug addicts because I couldn’t relate to normal kids. My mom and I had a horrible fight, and I ran out the front door and went to school and started making threats at school. They called my mom in, and I went to the hospital where I stayed for three months. After that, I got in touch with the Children’s Aid Society and they found out I had PTSD, which I didn’t know how to manage. I still remember the night before deciding whether or not I was going to leave with Children’s Aid; I was scared. My uncle wanted to take me to live with him, my mom wanted me to come back home, and I was afraid if I went into care and got help, I would destroy my family. I thought my parents would get into trouble.”
“I experienced substance abuse and self-harm while in care, but my biggest challenge was my deep sense of hopelessness and not feeling like a human being. I saw a lot of really beautiful people giving their lives to social work and supporting kids; [my second time in care] it totally changed my perspective of Children’s Aid. But, when you’re placed in a group of kids who have lost their families, identities, have been physically and sexually abused, and they’re trying to relate to other kids who have been through that – there’s a lot of bullying and cliques. And, youth giving themselves through sexual exploitation. I had some really tough experiences.”
“From about 14-19, those were some of the loneliest years of my life. When I was 19, things started to turn around. But, it began with attempted suicide. After years of being in therapy and in care, it just felt like there was no escape for me. The adult healthcare system is not suited for children from care. I had this radical realization that maybe I wasn’t supposed to die, and there was some purpose for my life. Maybe, I was loved. Slowly, from that point forward, I was able to get my life together and get out of this attitude that I was a ‘nobody’. And now, I’m not using any substances and not engaging in bad behaviours. I’m going to university full-time and studying pastoral ministry at Tyndale University College and Seminary. I hope to one day become a missionary or nurse.”
“I get my strength from seeing hope in the midst of my suffering. A person I really look up to and admire is Viktor Frankl. He was a Holocaust survivor, and one of my favourite books is his memoir, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. My favourite part of that book is when he talks about a guard who always found Viktor and would bully him. And, then one day, Viktor decided to fight back, and in that moment he realized ‘I’ve just become like the person I hated’, instead of finding a purpose in his anger. I remember reading that book and crying my eyes out because this man I don’t even know was speaking so much truth. I had so much hatred towards my father, and my mother, and myself, towards society, and when I read about Viktor’s life, I thought ‘what is that hatred really going to do for me, unless I channel all of that anger into forgiveness?’ And I channelled all of that anger and frustration into hope.”
“Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada has supported me in getting braces for my teeth, scholarships for my studies, and even clothes. They’ve helped me get connected to community supports and get a laptop and printer. One of the biggest supports is that I’ve been connected to the Pape Adolescent Resource Centre (PARC), which is one of the most amazing organizations I know. Beyond some of the caseworkers I’ve known, PARC has been so helpful. It’s practical and helps you with no questions asked.”
“I hope to use my experiences in care, and in life, to help youth and families in my community and give back. One of my more personal goals is to fully love and be at peace with myself.”