Nanaimo teens are drawing on experience to help make life better for youths in care.
“The ministry sucks,” said 16-year-old Cadence Manson. “I want to make it better and there is no other better way to do it than getting involved.”
Manson is one of 12 teens to sit on the new Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council to advocate for change in the B.C. care system and support other youth in care.
The group, which held its first meeting in October, was launched by Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre with funding from the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development after the centre heard youth in care wanted to come together and support one another. Members have participated in events with topics like reconciliation and poverty reduction, hosted a youth engagement forum and crafted a survey with help from the McCreary Centre Society to learn more about the youth demographic.
The information will inform recommendations to the ministry and help the council create a new pamphlet of resources.
Manson told the News Bulletin the council is trying to help youth from 12-19 years old have a better life in care “because there’s either social workers that don’t have enough contact with the youth, or social workers are, just straight up like, they don’t do anything for the youth.”
He also said it’s usually people that haven’t been in care that work with people like social workers and those in the ministry.
“They don’t know what it’s like to be in the trenches, stuck in group homes, being moved from one place to another.”
Trent Jack, 19, who has aged out of ministry care, didn’t hesitate to join the council and believes it has a lot of potential to make change.
“I just want to help other kids like me,” he said.
And both Jack and Manson have some ideas on what they’d like to see tackled.
Jack said there are things that have to be dealt with around youth aging out of care. He was lucky Nanaimo Youth Services Association helped him, he said, but other youths find when they live independently that as soon as they turn 19 everything stops being paid for. He’s heard of youths that struggle to live at apartments they can barely keep, are on the streets or who go back to foster parents.
“They had all of this support around them. As soon as they hit 19, it’s all gone,” he said. “Good luck … You’re 19. Your social worker shakes your hand and that’s it. That’s kind of rough.”
Manson believes more support is needed for children going into care.
“I’ve been in and out of care for my whole life and when I was 5, 6 that did a lot of emotional damage to me to this day from going to one family, then going to my own family and then going back to a family and never seeing that family again,” he said. “You start to learn how to live with that family and you start to love that family and then that family is just completely ripped from your reach and you have no other way of gaining contact with them.”
Ivy Richardson, coordinator for the youth council, said the group is still new, there’s going to be more and more direct action but right now it’s been a lot of relationship building. She guarantees they’ll be talking about the aging out of care process and advocating for housing, more transition planning and more mental health support in the year-end report.
As for Manson, he’s finding he has a stronger voice on Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council.
“Like the Lorax, I speak for the trees,” he said.
To see the youth survey, visit https://form.simplesurvey.com/f/l/NanaimoYouthSurvey.