AGING OUT OF CARE SERIES PART 1
Welcome to our aging out of care series. We recently met up with a former youth in care, an SOS Alumni, who moved away from SOS Children’s Village BC programs when they transitioned out of care. We continue to be a pillar of support for youth who are aging out of care, and have an open door policy, but for some youth this is not something they necessarily feel they need when they age out. For a lot of youth, this transition means that they can finally take back control over their own life and make their own decisions after years of feeling a lack of control, and a bit lost from being in care in the first place.
As youth age into adulthood some of these things can resurface and make it challenging to stay on course and focus on becoming an adult, all at once, before they turn 19. Because for youth in care in BC, and most of Canada, a 19th birthday means they officially are on their own without the support of a family.
Getting to the Heart of It
In canvassing and surveying our youth, we wanted to get to the heart of what was going on, and found that their experiences shared a lot in common with one another. For many youth, shutting the door on supports can mean a rough start all on their own. So SOS BC is working with our community to build our understanding around why this is so challenging and we want you to be along for the journey, so we can engage and help provide information – through this aging out of care series – on why caring for youth is important.
Sometimes, it really is that one individual, teacher, neighbour, or friend that helps these youth along. Let’s consider why youth have limitations on who and what kind of help they need and why they are so particular on where they find support. We believe we have some insights that our community can learn from, that can help shape our understanding of youth in care, and how we can better support them.
First Topic in our Aging Out of Care Series is TRUST and UNDERSTANDING EXPERIENCE
Move with Empathy.
To help youth in care, you have to leave your personal experience at the door to some degree. You have to understand that the youth you are working with do not share experience that the majority of people with family networks and social supports share.
In fact, many youth do not engage with this piece as much because they unfortunately have not had the opportunity or experience to grow up in a biological family, where young adults are able to find support and help if they need it. So you saying that it’s going to be easy, or it should not be a problem, because your experience has been simpler and supported, doesn’t really fly for someone who has never known that type of support or experience. Check your privilege and move with empathy. Really learn to take yourself out of the equation and step into their shoes.
Youth in general are at an interesting intersection in their lives. They are shedding away their childhood, experiencing independence, and learning how to be a part of the world. It may seem exciting for some, and the majority of you reading, but for youth in care it is absolutely terrifying.
Many of us take for granted that growing up in a biological family creates an environment of safety and security where you have the liberty to think about aspirations and what you want to do with your life. For youth in care who are only just learning to experience their adulthood – making mistakes along the way as all youth do – they don’t always feel as safe and secure in a foster home environment. Mistakes made can often mean a step back in the security and safety they may have already achieved in a foster home.
Non Judgemental Practice.
And so when we work with youth, we know that there is room for mistakes, that we don’t come from a place of judgement, that we are simply walking beside them along the way. Should they need help, and want our help, we are here to grab them up from whatever they find themselves in. And some of these situations can be scary. Our experiences have told us that youth can often isolate themselves because of fear, so it’s best to create an environment where if there is any fear, it’s a safe place to feel that way.
We have helped youth in the most vulnerable of places because they were able to reach out, because they felt safe that they would not be judged. For some youth, this may just mean that they are worried about their first job interview, for others it’s being in debt to someone who could take advantage of their situation, or someone who recently got into a car accident, or a health related issue where they were too scared to see a doctor and have to pay for medication.
It could mean a world of difference if youth are able to trust you in these circumstances, it could mean a youth staying healthy and sustained in their independence, or it could mean two steps back from their goals, a start to a cycle that is hard to get out of.
Summing it Up
We hope this aging out of care series has provided some insight on how SOS BC works with youth within our youth programs. The basis of our model and success in how we work with youth is in our ability to support youth through hardship, ensuring we do not judge them along the way. We create a safe and supportive environment where youth feel they can trust us at any point and any time in their life, even after they age out of care, even after they turn 30. We are trying to create the same security and safety anyone would find in a healthy family, because they deserve and are worthy of the same.
By Kistie Singh, Executive Director
Edited by William Brennan