Journey Home Ottawa is a project modelled on a successful initiative that began in Wisconsin in 1999. That initiative – an interactive bus tour – was established to educate state and local legislators, businesses and community members about what it meant to be a child or youth in the public child welfare system. Journey Home identified the importance of finding permanent families and the roles that those in the community have in affecting the lives of each and every child.
Journey Home Ottawa
Journey Home educates community members and leaders about some of the most vulnerable children and youth in their community. Policy and decision-makers, social workers, business people, educators, foster/adoptive parents, members of the justice system, community leaders and- most important – youth in and from care – can participate in a five-hour bus tour that simulates the experience of a child or youth’s time in care.
After boarding the bus, participants receive a profile of a child they ‘become’ for the day. Passengers are asked to imagine themselves as that child as they proceed through the journey of care to different stops/locations around the city.
Our stops include interviews with social workers and police, hospital visits/medical appointments, foster or group homes, the Children’s Aid Society, or a homeless shelter or support organization. Many youth who age out of care without permanent families become homeless.
At each stop along the journey, participants hear directly from a youth about their experience in care, suggestions about how best to support them, and ways to dismantle barriers to permanency. Passengers also hear from experts in the field and learn about the importance of their work for children and youth in/from the child welfare system.
At the end of the day, passengers learn whether the child they have imagined themselves to be returns to their birth family, is adopted, remains in foster care, or ages out of the system without a family.
Journey Home is a youth-led, adult-supported program. We hope it will inspire youth, including those with visible/invisible disabilities, to become a part of and to change the conversation around what it means to come into or grow up in the child welfare system.
Youth in/from care share their experiences and recommendations for change, showcasing their resiliency, their talents and their strength. They develop leadership, presentation and public speaking skills. Youth participants, as well as Journey Home passengers, learn about the intersectional and interdependent issues that children and youth from care face, including the way time in the child welfare system affects mental health, homelessness, school graduation rates, and contact with the justice system.
Journey Home showcases the strengths of the child welfare system as well as illustrates systemic challenges. We hope the project promotes greater empathy and understanding of how the child welfare system works. In every community, often unknowingly, people encounter children and youth who live in foster or group care, or who have spent time in the child welfare system.
Because only a small portion of Crown wards find permanent families before they age out of the child welfare system’s care, Journey Home will also raise public awareness about the need for foster and permanent families (adoptive, kinship, customary care, or guardianship).