BRITTANY, January’s Young Person in Profile, entered foster care at the age of 12 following her mother’s mental health challenges. Moving between foster and kinship placements, she struggled to establish and maintain relationships, which resulted in feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness. Now 21, she is enrolled in the Arts & Science program at the University of Toronto, and hopes to one day work with youth from care and support them in overcoming past traumas and building a bright, stable future. With the support of the Children’s Aid Foundation, she has received ongoing educational funding, and recently became a member of the Foundation’s Young People’s Advisory Council.
*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 the Children’s Aid Foundation.
When I was much younger, I thought that family meant your nuclear, biological family, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that DNA doesn’t make a family. Family is anyone who is going to support you and stick with you because they want to see you succeed, and they’ll support you in your endeavours to get there. You can call them up and say ‘I’m having a rough time’, and they want to talk to you about it. Family is something that you choose.
“I first became involved in the child welfare system when I was 12. My mother was in the midst of a mental health crisis, and I was apprehended after that. I moved between kinship care, foster care, and my mother’s care. When I was a child, I was pretty obsessed with school; it was my safe space and I loved being there. And then, midway through sixth grade, my option was to leave school early and move away from home to live with my aunt and uncle, or spend the last six weeks in foster care and still be able to attend school. So, I chose to stay in school and move into foster care, and after that I moved between kinship and foster care.”
“There are so many different experiences of life in care; there’s no one way to sum it all up. As a whole, the experience was profoundly life changing for me. The way I thought about myself and the people around me were really impacted; when I was a kid, even before I was in care, I would watch movies like Annie and think ‘I wish someone would adopt me’. There’s this real loneliness that kids who end up in care feel; I think it comes from this concept that we’re expendable. That if we don’t behave a certain way, we can be gone; that makes it really hard for us to form relationships, especially because most people who end-up in care are in their emotionally formative years. We’re left with this understanding: ‘if I’m not valuable enough to my parent, how am I valuable to anybody else?’ You go into adulthood feeling worthless and not good enough. And that feeling remains, I’m sure not just with me, but with lots of other youth from care.”
“Loneliness was a huge challenge for me; I moved between London, Ontario, then to Stratford, then to a tiny town, then to Toronto. For me, the loneliness of never really having a set group of friends, because you’re constantly moving and changing schools, was really hard. I think multiple issues can stem from that; from depression to isolation. It’s not like your foster parents can drive you everywhere, every time; so, if you’re living in the country, you’re kind of out of luck if you want to see friends. And, that was one of the largest challenges I faced. Great people lived where I lived, but it was so small. Not being able to participate in parties and events, because again — you have to drive everywhere, and sometimes your foster parents can’t drive you — was really challenging, especially as a teenager and wanting to have a social life.”
“There are a lot of different stigmas facing youth from care; for example, that we’re all badly behaved children, and that’s why we’re in care. Another stigma is that we’re in care because we have mental health issues, and I think that kind of stigma follows kids around. It’s a problem because not only does it affect how your peers view you, but how your teachers and other authority figures view you, in terms of interactions and relationships. It’s definitely not the first thing that I tell people when I meet them, because it could be a red flag for them. A lot of [the stigma] is because people are uneducated on why kids go into care, and I think the blame is placed on children. There’s another misconception that foster kids don’t do anything — that we freeload from the government and [are lazy]. And, that’s really hurtful, because I work too hard to be told I don’t do anything.”
“I was lucky in that near the end of my foster journey, I got a forever family. During the holidays, my partner and I went home with my dog, and my mom — which is what I call my adoptive mother — wanted to spoil us. When I was much younger, I thought that family meant your nuclear, biological family, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that DNA doesn’t make a family. Family is anyone who is going to support you and stick with you because they want to see you succeed, and they’ll support you in your endeavours to get there. You can call them up and say ‘I’m having a rough time’, and they want to talk to you about it. Family is something that you choose. I have my partner, I have my roommate, my dog, and my adoptive parents.”
“I want to become a psychologist, primarily working with youth in care. When I was in care, my therapist was running a pilot program. Once or twice a month, I’d meet with her and my foster family and we’d go over my goals and who was going to help me accomplish them. We worked through things together, so things didn’t get blown out of proportion and everyone was aware of what was going on. So, I’d like to work with other kids from care.”
“There’s this whole idea that ‘it could be worse’. People will use it to justify anything under the sun, and the issue with saying that is — yes, it could be worse — but it shouldn’t have to be worse to validate the fact that something bad happened. A lot of people in my life have said things like ‘it could be worse; you could be homeless’. Well, I could be dead, but I’m not. That doesn’t mean [my experiences] weren’t bad. And it’s really counterproductive to people’s mental health because people make you feel like it’s not bad enough to get their empathy. If someone ends-up in foster care, that should be enough.”
“I love the Children’s Aid Foundation and being a part of the Young People’s Advisory Council. Here’s something about supporting youth in care: we exist in this limbo in society. Like, even if someone’s home life isn’t perfect, they tend to still have some support from your family or people they’ve grown-up with. Kids from care don’t have those relationships. The reason it’s so important for donors to support us is that even though money will never replace your family, it can send you to school or help you start a business, or really help you invest in your future. Access to funding levels the playing field and builds opportunity.”