The ACC works with young people, including Alisha and Susan, to help them advocate about the importance of having a permanent family. There are approximately 30,000 children and youth in government care across Canada (foster and group homes) who are legally available for permanency (adoption, legal guardianship, kinship care, customary care or reunification with healthy birth family members). The majority of those children and youth are 6 and older. The majority will age out of the foster care system without a permanent family.
If they do age out of care without finding families, the results for some will be homelessness, incarceration, trafficking, teen parenthood, reliance on social assistance, lack of post-secondary education and in some cases, suicide.
Our program, called Youth Speak Out, trains youth to speak in public, to participate on panels and to create films and artwork about why they need permanent families. We have Youth Speak Out teams across Canada: in Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Guelph, Halifax, Fredericton, Iqaluit, along with additional members in Toronto, London ON, Sydney N.S., Moncton N.B., Nanaimo B.C. and Richmond Hill, ON and plans to expand to Timmins and Thunder Bay, ON over the course of the next three years.
These youth are still in foster care, have been adopted, or have aged out of the system without permanent families. They learn how to participate in panels where they can tell legislators, policymakers, social workers, family court lawyers and judges, potential adoptive families, and other decision-makers what it’s like to be in foster care and why they need families who will stick with them long after they turn 16, 18, and 21.
So far, they have spoken on Parliament Hill, at Queen’s Park, at the New Brunswick legislature, to social workers, adoptive parents, teachers, prospective child and youth workers and social workers, deputy ministers, provincial ministers, the Governor General, directors of child welfare, child and youth advocates, and foster parents. Their voices and their experiences have begun to change policy and practice.
Working with local adult supports, we prepare Youth Speak Out members for media interviews and work with artists to help them to tell digital stories and create visual art, poems and essays conveying their messages. In the process, they tell us that they gain confidence and feel more empowered. By telling their stories, they help to change the system. Constructing a narrative of their lives also becomes a powerful and effective therapeutic tool.
Members of the team are now available to speak to potential adoptive parents, social workers, judges, lawyers, educators, politicians, policymakers, and all those interested in permanency for children and youth in foster care.
Our ultimate goals is to help youth advocate for permanent families before (and after) they age out of government care.
The youth we train form a strong support network for each other. They learn important public speaking and advocacy skills. They also tell us they feel more in control of their lives. They have used this training to make real changes.
Some of our youth have found families as a result of this work. Others have received job opportunities or gone on to post-secondary education.
To learn more, please call the Adoption Council of Canada, 613.680.2999, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.