What Worked and Didn't Work in School

I am a Foster Child; School and the Good vs. Bad

Everyone has a different experience in school and mine was not that bad. I felt that I stuck out like a sore thumb because I went to 4 different high schools in 4 years.

I think that I did not like when you had family visits at school and they call you on the P.A systems; it makes us feel like we are different than everyone else, because the students look at you like you did something wrong -- when all you are doing is going to see your family. Some teachers even allowed me to leave early so I did not feel awkward when they buzzed me on the P.A. system.

Things that worked for me was having the support from the school and them believing in me that I can do anything. The teachers were amazing because I remember my teachers taking extra time to help me and would see me before class; they made sure that I understood what they were teaching. I was a very shy person and did not like to ask questions so I liked when they helped me before or after school.

A few things that did not work was when you got singled out as a foster child -- people did not talk to me and I got bullied. They would say things like, you are in care because no one loves you, or because you are a trouble maker, or you are unwanted. Those really hurt and still stick with me to this day.

In conclusion it depends on your school and the support you have but no matter what you can do anything.

My Foster Mom: My Biggest Fan

Shyanne

My name is Shyanne, I am 19 years old, and I have been in care since I was 15 years old. I have five brothers and one sister that are all younger than me.

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Over five years ago, I was living with my mom and four of my other siblings. When I was just 11 years old I was raising my siblings, more specifically my two youngest siblings; my sister at the time was about one and my brother was a couple of months old. Until I went into care at the age of 15, I was responsible for changing, feeding, bathing, getting them dressed, eventually getting them to school, and all of the housework responsibilities. All of my stepdads were very abusive physically and mentally and they were involved with drugs such as ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine. My mom was rarely home and could be gone for a couple of days a time. I usually didn’t know where she went until I was much older; she sat me down and told me that she needed a way to make money so she started dealing drugs with whichever stepdad was with her at the time. As a result of the low income we often relied on food banks for our food and second hand clothing. I didn’t attend school very often because I was the primary caregiver and had to care for my siblings.

Three days before my 15th birthday, I was pulled into my principal’s office at school. I was told that I was being taken to the police station for an interview. Afterwards we went to go apprehend my siblings from the after school daycare that they were attending. Then we were split up and we all went into foster care. I will never forget the joy that my foster mom had when first meeting me. She hugged me and said, “this is not a foster home, this is your home” and those words will stick with me the rest of my life. Not once had I had a place that I could truly call home, but I have been fortunate enough to have one for the last 5 years with the most incredible parents anyone could ask for.

Most people assume that all of the experiences in care are very negative. Although that certainly can be right, there are also a lot of positives that I was fortunate enough to experience while I was in care. Through the Children’s Aid Foundation I was able to attend camp for my first time and I am now going on my 6th year, with these past 2 years working as a camp counselor. I tried out for sports teams (competitive cheerleading and ice-hockey, quite the opposites I must say haha!) I actually did both for a number of years. Last but not least, I was able to receive scholarships, which has truly been so helpful as I am currently finishing my second year at Humber College doing a Bachelors degree in Child and Youth Care in hopes to one day obtain my Masters in Social Work. I cannot explain how much of an impact all of these has had on me. I was able to try new things and have the support that I needed while I thrived throughout the last 5 years. I went from having low grades in grade 9 and 10 to graduating as an Ontario Scholar and receiving the science award which is awarded to the student with the highest mark in all of the classes in that subject to now being in post secondary and looking forward to making the changes to better the child welfare system.

I graduated with over 155 volunteer hours in high school. The main reason I choose to volunteer is not only because I love it, but also because I know that I am making a change in someone else’s life. If I wasn’t able to have the opportunities that I did while I was in care, I would not be where I am today. Because of that, I choose to give back.

I want to leave you with one last thought, my foster mom has a poster in one of the bedrooms that says, “you are stronger than you seem, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think.” During my last 5 years I have realized that I am all of these things.

My Journey with Trauma Alongside Me

Jessica

I have grown up sharing my story. I have shared my story with the Radio, newspapers, community events, television programs, award ceremonies, publishers, teachers, friends, extended family, youth in care and advocacy groups to name a few. I sometimes forget that even though my story sounds like a broken record to me after sharing it for nine years, people are impacted by it. It is always interesting watching people’s reactions to my story, the story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent.

For many years, I did not realize I was struggling with trauma. I was in survival mode for so many years that my body did not have the time to think about how things were making it feel. All I needed to worry about was leaving home safely, running away fast without getting caught, finding a pillow for my head, shelter from the rain and food for my stomach. It was not until my life started becoming relatively normal, that I began noticing the effects my past was having on me.

Nightmares began occurring, of my siblings dying or seeing ghosts of my family members. Dreams of being in danger and someone finding me were common. I would wake up screaming, crying or in a panic attack. I self-harmed for a period of time. For me, self-harm provided a physical release of the hurt I felt internally. Hurt that told me I was in the wrong, I was the reason I was in care, that I was unlovable, abandoned and a failure. Anxiety began developing when I was in University.  I would experience stress at a whole new level and go from 0-100 in seconds, immediately imagining the worst of any situation. Being unable to breathe was often followed by tears and exhaustion. When speaking about my story or my family, my body would shake uncontrollably despite my best efforts to tell myself that I was OK and that I was safe. I also did not know how to build positive and healthy relationships, or how to rely on anyone but myself. I was conditioned to believe that the only way to be safe was if I put a wall around me. I learned to try to be emotionlessness and play the game, for as long as I needed to play it, to survive.

I share some of the effects of trauma I experienced, to provide a glimpse of what it was and still can be like for me. To show you, what a large portion of my teen years were like. If I did not write about how bad it was, telling you where I am today would not mean anything because you would have nothing to compare it to.

Today, I am a youth advocate for youth in care and gay youth. I use my voice, to make a change for the generations coming after me. I use my voice not to share my story for the sake of sharing my story, but to raise awareness of forms of abuse, mental health and homophobia experienced by gay youth by their parents and families. I began public speaking at the age of 17 and from that, began being asked to share my story through different forms of media. The Office of the Provincial Advocate discovered my voice through my local CAS agency’s submission for the Children and Youth in Care Hearings in 2011. I then began sitting on Provincial working boards and becoming a part of change on a provincial level. My voice was now a part of impacting thousands of youth. It started, with sharing my story. The story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent.

Today, I still experience the past effects of the trauma I experienced as a child and teen. Trauma does not just go away because you go to counselling or learn how to cope. You do not just forget what happened to you. I still get triggered, I still have anxiety, I still have nightmares, and my body still reacts. BUT, it does not happen as often, and when it does, I can put a voice and reason to why it does. The other difference is that I now have people in my life who help pick me up when I am experiencing lows. I now have people who constantly display care towards me and love me no matter what. Sometimes, I push them away, but I am learning to do that less. I now have people to talk to when I am struggling. I now have boundaries which I have developed over time to keep me safe, in a healthy way.  My partner of seven years, her parents, aunts and uncles, mentors and friends, have all helped me develop into the person I am still becoming and have helped me along my journey of dealing with past trauma.

It took me 15 years to be traumatized and to learn unhealthy habits. It would be unfair of me to expect my body and mind to unlearn everything with the snap of my fingers.  The thing about advocates is that we are human too, we struggle like everyone else. We have our stories and have our pasts. That is part of why we are advocates. As horrible as my story is, it is a reason I am where I am today, and have made the impacts I have this far. It is the reason I have learned the lessons I have. Trauma is a part of my past and a part of my story.  The story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent. Trauma walks alongside me, but it is more silent with every step forward I take.

We Need To Educate School Children about Adoption

Hello,

At 11 months old I was taken into care, thereafter, I was put into a foster family .They became my parents as I grew up. Just before turning three I started to visit my adopted parents and after turning three I was then adopted and reunited with my two biological brothers. When I was enrolled into kindergarten, my parents seemed to notice I was worried about being abandoned again. My parents then decided, since my mother was a stay at home mom at the time, that they would do home schooling with me and my two older brothers. This was a lot better. By the time I was in grade 2 I transitioned back into mainstream elementary school.

In school, I was always the child singled out and bullied. The stereotypes given to adopted youth and their biological families are horrible. Adopted youth, including myself, are seen as the weird kids that had horrible parents and weren't wanted. No one seems it see the positive within adoption and only are able to focus on the negative. I often heard kids saying to other kids “you’re adopted” as a joke to make fun of people or because they thought adopted youth were unworthy and unwanted. It seemed that no one was able to understand it all. These things and these stereotypes really impact the youth. Seeing that all these people think of adoption as a negative thing, it really can make youth not want to share with people and try to hide their life, themselves, and become withdrawn and/or isolated. Stereotypes are seen a lot when it comes to adoption and the birth families of adopted youth.

  This is the picture I chose to best describe me. I feel like I am always searching for those isolated spots with amazing amount of beauty. This is a picture in switzerland where my mom's from. I feel it describes me because I love the nature and the mountains are big and strong and I like to think of my self as a big and strong individual; plus I really would love that house cause I like the idea of being isolated with that amazing beauty around me.

 

This is the picture I chose to best describe me. I feel like I am always searching for those isolated spots with amazing amount of beauty. This is a picture in switzerland where my mom's from. I feel it describes me because I love the nature and the mountains are big and strong and I like to think of my self as a big and strong individual; plus I really would love that house cause I like the idea of being isolated with that amazing beauty around me.

The truth is, in a line of youth who are adopted, from care, and those who are not from care, you can’t tell who is and who isn't connected to the child welfare system, or has been adopted into families. So why are we treating adopted youth any different?

I have dealt with a lot of people thinking different things about me because I am an adopted youth. I was bullied and made fun of. I can't stand people who stereotype adoption based on something people say without finding out for themselves. Adoption is a normal thing. Lots of people see it as babies and the truth is there are many older youth in care needing to be adopted too. Many stereotypes can be found when it comes to adoption and I hope our stories through the A4L Youth Lounge will inspire new ways of thinking and understanding.

Bottling Up Problems Is A Poor Solution

Matthew

My experiences in school varied greatly in terms of how much I enjoyed it based on what grade range I was in. Grades 1-6 went okay for me, not great, but not bad either. Grades 7 and 8 were significantly worse. I was frequently bullied at this time. It wasn't until high school that I began to truly enjoy school. I finally became comfortable with opening up, and I found it much easier to connect with my peers and the staff.

I believe that youth in care should be more frequently encouraged to converse with their student counsellor about any issues that they may have. Trying to keep your problems bottled up within yourself is a poor solution to dealing with issues in the long term, and that's why it's important for youth in care, (and youth in general) to take the step towards opening up and expressing their feelings in a healthy manner.

Moving A lot = Lack of Permanent Relationships

Permanency means a lot to everyone but as a youth in care is means a permanent home when you do not have to move around a lot. A lot of youth in care do not experience permanency while in care and are moved at the sign of trouble and that is what happens a lot. When we move it makes it hard to form relationships and to trust people because it makes us feel as though no one wants us or that we are not good enough.

All we want is a loving home that will treat us like part of the family or someone to call when you are having a bad day, or even to go on holidays. For me I was not given the opportunity to have that and now I spend every holiday alone and every bad day writing and personally I have moved so many times that I barely have any friends or people to talk to and that takes a toll.

I believe that permanency is important because it gives us somewhere permanent where we can unpack our stuff and not be afraid that if there is a disagreement that we will be moved.

In conclusion we want a place where we are loved and cared for and have somewhere to go for the holidays.

 

 

 

Adopting Older Youth

Adopting Older Youth: More Understanding, Less Expectations

By Layla

Just as many of you, I have encountered internal struggles around adoption. Speaking as an older youth, I had the experience to live with and love my biological family. I then moved into foster care and a year later I was adopted. Throughout my life I was left and abandoned on multiple occasions. The hurt was tremendous but I survived. The biggest problem with the adoption process is that we all, meaning the adoptive parents on the children, and the children on the parents, have expectations but in reality you can't expect anything.

My mother passed away when i was 6 years old. I was left with my 2 younger siblings and my father. My uncle lived with us too. All of this was a hard blow. Not going to lie but she was the first of many to leave. My grandmother then kinda took my mom’s place; I found out she had cancer a year after. This hurt me and so I took my mother’s, and grandmother’s spot. I didn't want anyone else leaving my two younger siblings and I knew I was permanence for them. Loss and trust issues seem to be in a lot of adoptee stories. You try to learn to live with it…but it's hard when you move into adoption homes and are expected to trust each other within a few months or even a year.

On my journey, my father, uncle, and newly found girlfriend of my dad’s all abused my siblings and me. It was emotional and physical pain shooting through every direction. I guess you don't notice these things in the moment because everything slowly progresses but when I stepped out of that environment and saw the damage it caused on my life, I just felt hopeless and as much as you want to continue to give your love to everyone, you have to work on your own heart and repair a few things so the love stays pure. The adoption community has a way of pressuring youth into trying to make you love a certain way. (mother-daughter, father-son relationships) and this is something that formulates lash-outs and such… but love just takes time especially with adopting older youth such as myself. You have to learn to mesh together.

Finally I don't know if this is a thing for everyone but throughout my foster and adoption experience, people always tried to find a disability or problem with me when in reality I was fine; I had to fight to make sure I didn't have anyone jumping at my throat trying to diagnose me with something. It is important to be aware but this was a problem that I believe I shouldn't have had to deal with and I feel like this has happened to many adoptees. It is an expectation that hurts adopted youth or rather me.

In conclusion adoption is a hard and drawn out process. One that is worth it in the long run but there needs to be more understanding and less expectations. Life will take its course and everything that you dreamed about will be fulfilled…just in a different way and one that is unique to yourself. Just be open minded and see the beauty in what it is -- it is different for everyone.

LGBTQ and Permanency

LGBTQ and Permanent: Trans Youth From Care.

By Jaymee

I was placed in a foster home when I was 12 hours old. As the years went by my mom felt I would be a great addition to the family and she adopted me by the age of 4 years old.

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I lived a pretty normal life growing up, but I was different. I was the good kind of different; I knew something was different about me when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I guess you can say puberty hit me at a really young age. I experienced some changes in my body and right there and then I knew I wasn’t in the right body. I kept pretending I was a female till I was about 14 years of age, and during this time I knew I was destined to be a guy. I decided to rebel against my family when I was 14 years old and I ended up in foster care. My adoption broke down.

While I was living in foster care it was difficult to come out because no one really understood anything and most of all I was scared of being judged. When I came out as a lesbian at the age of 14, I thought it was only a phase; people around me always told me I was going to be straight and that I was going to date a man. My parents also told me it was ‘only a phase’. I wanted to come out really badly when I was 14 but I waited until I was a Crown Ward. During this time I got ‘sick’; my mental health took a huge toll on me. The reason behind this was because I had anxiety living in a female’s group home and sharing rooms with other girls. When I was in a treatment facility/hospital, I had my own room - I felt safe, I felt like I was able to be the real me, the real man I was destined to be.

When I was 19 years old, I came out to everyone. I got mixed emotions. People were telling me I was sick and other people were telling me I was finally able to break free (they already knew). It was a difficult progress; my parents didn’t take it well at first. When I started my hormones they were coming around, to this day they still have some difficulties calling me a ‘he’ and I wish this wasn’t the case. I know deep down my parents love me and want me to be as happy as I can be. 

Overall, I have had a good experience with my family and I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you ask me about my birth family, I met them when I was 18 and 19. My birth mom basically wanted to kill me when I told her that I was trans, and my birth father was a teacher for the catholic school board. I am closer to my paternal side however; he still has a hard time adjusting to it. He has come a long way since I’ve met him and I am thankful for this. He is no longer homophobic… however he refuses to call me his son; instead I am just his child. This is something I will not argue about with him -- he knows I don’t like being called his daughter and he definitely respects this about me.

I feel like my adoption would not have broken down if supports were available to help me understand ways I could go about my LGBTQ journey, and help my parents understand more about this. Although my foster parents still have a hard time calling me by the correct pronoun, I am still thankful for them. I wish there were more resources and supports. I feel like parents have expectations about what their children are in regards to gender and sexuality and when this goes against their ideals, it is tough to understand and navigate (not only for them but for me as well).

A part of permanency is the ability for a person to be themselves when it comes to gender and sexuality, regardless of the expectations parents may have.

Voices From Care: Press-Release

Adopt4Life to publish stores by Children and Youth in and from care throughout May 2015 for Children and Youth in Care Day’s month. The Children and Youth in Care month stories will be the 3rd social media outreach campaign. #CYICMonth

Throughout May, Ontario’s Association for Adoptive Families will use Children and Youth in Care Day’s month of May to provide narratives from children and youth in and from care that give insight into their lives and experiences regarding various topics, such as, education, permanency, and education.

Toronto, Ontario, May 1, 2015 – Today Adopt4Life, Ontario’s non-profit Association for Adoptive Families, announced the start of Voices From Care; an outreach campaign through social media channels.  Coinciding with Children and Youth in Care Day’s month, the awareness campaign will highlight the experiences of young people in and from care.  

This campaign is to celebrate the lives of young people who have grown up in and around care, whether they were adopted, in the foster or group care system, or are a part of ‘heart families’.

The first story that will be posted on May 4, 2015 on Adopt4Life’s website www.Adopt4Life.com is by a young person from care who identifies with the LGBTQ community, specifically the Trans community. He speaks about his experiences growing up in care, and shares his conceptualization of what Permanency means. The Adopt4Life website will feature 3+ stories per week in the month of May and will also be shared through its twitter handle, @adopt4lifeON, and Facebook page. Note that all stories will only publish the first names, and in some cases pseudonyms, of young people in order to protect the requested privacy of individuals.

Adopt4Life believes Ontario can do better in ensuring successful outcomes for children and youth in and from care, and believes every young person has the right to permanency and lives without discrimination for being from the care system.

 

About Adopt4Life

Adopt4life is Ontario’s voice for adoptive families. We advocate at the government level for an improved adoption process and for better services, and provide support and guidance to adoptive families from the moment they are “Adopt Paper Ready” throughout their parenting journey. Inclusive of ALL Ontario adoptive parents, including: public, private, international, kin care, customary care and moral adoption.