CHEYANNE entered foster care at the age of 14, following years of verbal and physical abuse at home. After entering care, she was able to find the stability needed to begin her healing journey. A founding member of the Young People’s Advisory Council, CHEYANNE is a child welfare ambassador and advocate with Children’s Aid Foundation, along with founding several other child welfare support groups and research initiatives. With scholarship funding from the Foundation, she was able to complete her post-secondary education, including her Master’s of Social Work, and continues to be an active advocate for youth from care.
*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.
I always knew I wanted to help people; and eventually when I came into care, I was that loud voice when something wasn’t right. I was just always a firecracker, I always had it in me.
“I entered the child welfare system when I was 14 years old. I wasn’t apprehended; it was a choice that I made. I entered the care system from the youth justice system due to domestic issues at home, and the police having to be called. The Children’s Aid Society stepped-in and asked me ‘are you going home?’ and I decided didn’t even want to talk to my mother.”
“For the most part, I had an excellent time in care. It gave me the safety and stability that I needed. What I struggled with the most were my experiences before coming into care, and deciding what I wanted to share with others. A lot of my [journey] has been a healing process and trying to figure out my identity and trying to rebuild my confidence. Foster care is definitely a double-edged sword; I never looked at it as a struggle for me, my struggle was coming to terms with who I was as a person and learning to love myself. Growing-up, my [darker] skin colour was an issue. The instability I had before going into care totally brought down my grades and shifted my focus.”
“For me, family is a social construction; it’s not who you are born into, it’s not about only having biological relationships, it’s about who has your back? Who can you turn to? When I was growing-up, I had already told myself in my head that my biological family was not my family. The only person I really saw as my family was my uncle, but he passed away when I was in grade three. As an adult, I’ve been able to add members of my biological family back into my inner-circle, especially my cousins. When I started high school, I met my best friend and she became my sister. I started to couch surf at her house, and [because of her family’s heritage], I started to identify with the Guyanese, Trini, Jamaican communities. I remember walking into the group home and I was the only Brown person – I was the black sheep again. But, eventually you get to know these people and they become part of your family. Family gets created in different spaces; it’s always created. It’s an important discovery I made for myself.”
“I began to advocate even before entering care, when I was in grade three or four. I was interested in supporting one of my teachers from elementary school who had her own non-profit called the Toronto Homeless Outreach Program of Hope, and I was one of the students she brought-in to pack clothes and do outreach on the weekends. I always knew I wanted to help people; and eventually when I came into care, I was that loud voice when something wasn’t right. I was just always a firecracker, I always had it in me.”
“I got into college and social service work and blew through it with flying colours, and got into my Bachelor’s degree right after. I graduated with my MSW and really saw that my success is proof that this is where I should be. When I aged-out of care, I really wanted to put my credentials and volunteer experience to good use. I led and founded two projects; the Provincial Research Study on Permanency and Family for Young People in Care, a study also for adoptees and people in the shelter system, and youth in the youth criminal justice system. The other project was “What’s the Map?” which is mobilizing young people under the age of 24 who are newcomers from the global south who are homeless or have faced homelessness. This advocacy work stems from my adversity in the past.”
“Children’s Aid Foundation funding has helped me in many ways; it funded my entire post-secondary education — two degrees, my diploma, and even trying out a dental program. The funding has been so helpful in maintaining my focus and retaining the A’s that I’ve gotten, as well as reducing the amount of stress I’ve faced. It helped me not worry about bills and move forward from just being in survival mode. The Foundation has also been amazing for promoting stability in my life. Being from care, you don’t have stability in terms of relationships, and what’s stood out for me in my own journey with the Foundation is that it has become family for me; it became an extension of myself. And that’s why I’m so passionate about being an advocate and working in philanthropy. The Foundation has always been there for me.”