JODENE, 33, is an advocate, entrepreneur, mother, and former youth in care. After experiencing abuse and neglect at home and entering the child welfare system, she moved from foster care to group homes before transitioning to independent living at the age of 15.
Now, JODENE is a proud mother who runs her own home care business to support elderly individuals and those with developmental disabilities. She participates in regular speaking engagements to motivate women, talk about entrepreneurship, and share her experiences growing up in 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 of Canada.
It wasn’t easy. Even though being at home was not a good situation, it was hard not being at home either.
“I came into care when I was 11. I had run away from home after my dad and my stepmother hit me and I ended up at my friend’s house down the street. The police were called and, at that moment, nothing happened, but then a few days later my stepmother hit me again. Then I ran away to another friend’s house and her mom phoned the police, and I told them ‘I’m not going back home.’ And then I came into care. It was temporary care at that time, and then from there I ended up being placed into a foster home where I stayed three months. I went to a group home after that and I stayed there for about a year.”
“I have mixed emotions about my time in care – it depended on the homes that I stayed in. My best experience was living at one of the group homes. The staff there were loving, it didn’t feel like I lived in a group home. The residents that I lived with, we actually became really close and a lot of them I’m actually still friends with today.”
“One of the biggest challenges I found was settling into a new home. I ran away often, so I was constantly placed in a new home. Eventually I was able to connect with a staff member at a group home and shared with them how I was feeling. It wasn’t easy. Even though being at home was not a good situation, it was hard not being at home either because I have siblings.”
“Transitioning out of care made me feel really lost because when I was in care I would always have my worker to contact whenever I just couldn’t figure out things on my own anymore. But one time I called and she had to say ‘sorry, you can’t go into a group home anymore, you’re not of age.’ That was a shock. I had to go into shelters after that. This happened a couple of weeks before my 16th birthday. It was really traumatic because, even though I didn’t like being at the group home and I always ran away, it was almost like a security blanket you knew you could always run back to and you would be provided for.”
“It’s important when transitioning from care that youth are taught how to manage their money. That was a big thing for me. When you’re in care, everything is provided and then once you ‘age out’, you get the allowance once a month. Once that’s cut off, it’s really cold. I was lost, I didn’t know what to do at that point. I remember receiving my last cheque and I wasn’t prepared to stop getting them. So I think it’s imperative to teach youth how to manage money.”
“I struggled with feeling different than everybody. I knew I had problems, and I felt like there was something wrong with me. I wondered why my life had to turn out the way it did and why everybody else’s seemed normal. They would go home to their family. They had moms, they had dads, and I didn’t have that because I didn’t grow up with my biological mom, and I grew up with my dad but he was absent. My biggest challenge was just feeling different and feeling like that wasn’t normal.”
“I’ve struggled with mental health for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the system, that never really goes away and I made a lot of poor choices following that because I didn’t seek the help at the time. My youngest children’s dad was really physically abusive and I feel I stayed in that relationship because I didn’t know my self worth. I didn’t have support from my family, but if I had support maybe I wouldn’t have clung to that relationship so hard or I would have known my worth to get out. Having someone to talk to would have been helpful because I found that I really struggled with depression leaving care.”
“What got me to where I am today was knowing it’s imperative that my children don’t repeat the same patterns that I did. It was a cycle: experiencing abuse as a child, growing up in a group home, and then ending up in abusive relationships. What drove me to start my business was needing financial independence. I wanted to leave my kids something so they aren’t dependent on anyone else. That’s what really pushed me to accomplish the things that I have.”
“I want to give a voice to other young people in care. When I speak at events, there a lot of women who didn’t grow up in a group home but they have had similar challenges to what I’ve faced and I want to help inspire them. The reason I wanted to be an ambassador for Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is that one of my best friends who I grew up in care with ended up completing suicide last year. I was always trying to get her to do advocacy for people living with mental health issues. She just couldn’t overcome the barrier of the cycles that she went through, like being in a group home and the abuse she endured as a child, and I was trying to get her to do it with me. So when she passed away, I promised myself that I would continue advocating.”
“I first heard about Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada when I was applying to college. At the time, I was working with my social worker and she said to me, ‘you know there’s grant opportunities and as you’re applying for college I think you should apply for them.’ I ended up getting a grant to help me with my program and bursaries to help with buying books and supplies for school.”
“It was really good to receive that support because, although I was working and I had to put my own money into going to school, it relieved stress because I didn’t have to come up with the entire amount. The support supplemented my school costs and allowed me to focus on my studying rather than working so much to have to pay the school. I didn’t want to do student loans, I didn’t want to have to go into debt.”
“With my business, I staff personal support workers in the community setting so we go into hospitals and long-term care facilities to provide support care to patients who have developmental disabilities, to the elderly who just need personal support, or some people who just want companionship services. And we also do a little bit of light housekeeping, so I have some of my workers who go in and clean if you need support for that. When I was a personal support worker in the community setting, I ended up injuring myself. I ended up being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and degenerative disk disease, so when creating my company, it was imperative that we weren’t as much physical task-oriented and rushed, but that we would be focused on the client care and asking them what they need, how we can assist them, and just spending time with them. It’s very important to build a relationship. The majority of my clients are like family. It’s not even a client and worker situation anymore because you just become so comfortable and it’s not just a job, it’s the love for caregiving.”
“When I do speaking engagements, I describe my journey and background in child welfare and how that propelled me to where I am today. I also do mentoring, giving business advice. I give tips on how to start a business and talk about the challenges. I don’t think anyone is born an entrepreneur, I feel that entrepreneurs are made due to circumstance.”
“Giving makes the difference. Having financial support, thanks to donors, made a difference. I really appreciate the support Foundation donors have provided because I essentially didn’t have a future and then being able to have that income and go to school, it allowed me to become a better version of myself.”
Support young people like JODENE in achieving their full potential.