The words of AECEO President Dr Brooke Richardson, Irwin Elman, and Cheyanne Ratnam, Co-Founder, CEO & President, Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition, on this May 14, Ontario Children and Youth in Care Day:
Today May 14 is Ontario’s Youth in Care Day which honours all young people across Ontario in and from the child welfare system. Today we acknowledge their strength and courage as they face the challenges the circumstances that brought them into care and the experiences caused by the often trauma inducing system the Province has created to “care” for them
Today the biggest danger for children, youth and families who encounter the child welfare system, in fact for many of us , is that when COVID is over things will go back to normal. Normal was never and still is not, good enough for young people in the legal guardianship of the state (in “care”). The outcomes of “normal”, our systems attempts to care for children, was too often homelessness, poverty, prison, and sometimes even death.
Today governments continue to define “success” as financial, physical and emotional independence. In fact, this now appears to be an untouchable universal truth. At the subjective and state level, we drank the rugged individualism KoolAid internalizing the idea that to be (inter)dependent or needy is to be weak, small and broken. Along these lines, the modus operandi of state structures is to reward those who don’t need and vilify (and too often criminalize) those who do – particularly equity seeking groups including young people and alumni from the child welfare system.
A tunnel vision and focus by government on fiscal “efficiencies”, economic bottom lines and getting ahead (at the individual, institutional and political levels) have made the conditions in which good care can exist impossible. In fact, we throw around the word “care” like it means something: “long-term care”, “healthcare”, “childcare”, “daycare”, “health care”, “kids in [state] care”.
As a young person from within the system once said: “good care in the child welfare system is a matter of good fortune rather than good planning”. Young people often feel as though they are in the backseat in the car of their life, powerless to determine their journey. Once they legally become an adult (an arbitrary age determined by legal systems) they are thrown the keys never learning to drive – in a car with no gas, a flat tire and a sputtering engine.
So what is good care? Good care positions young people in the driver seat, thoughtfully deliberates policies and resource provisions while grappling with the intersecting needs of peoples in complex ethical and material situations.
But perhaps the biggest missing resource when it comes to the child welfare system is time: the time to build the conditions where young people experience respectful, supportive, equitable relationships with themselves and their respective and interconnecting communities. As a privileged province and country, it is OUR responsibility (through government leadership, institutions and policies) to ensure that every young person who intersects with the child welfare system participates in their care as fully as possible. This cannot take place until there is a government and institutional shift in culture. The end of rugged individualism, not to be replaced by a “saviour framework”, must come.
This is our call to action. We, along with a growing community of young people, scholars and activists offer another way: “a caring democracy”. A caring democracy exists where “…the purpose of economic life is to support care – not the other way around”. The pandemic has revealed the dangers of prioritizing the economy at the expense of care. A caring democracy cannot exist without the meaningful, active and ongoing participation of equity-seeking lived experts – particularly in decision-making processes.
Youth in Care Day is the opportune time to begin building a caring democracy. Children in “care” are the only group that the government, on behalf of all of us, is legally required to care for. We are failing them. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Today, in Ontario, we have the opportunity to follow the leadership of young people in and from care (First Voice Advocates) who have struggled their way to a place at the table. We ask you to join us, as allies, in the making of a new normal.
Replace your language that places the care of yourself, others and your community ahead of the well being of the economy. Demand that your leaders do the same.
Part of developing a new normal is building capacity together in child welfare. Learn about the issues faced by young people in and from the child welfare system not issues faced by the system. Tune in live on Facebook through the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition for Ontario’s Provincial Day of Learning, #Five14Futures May 14th at 11:45am.
Check out a broader grassroots care campaign to prioritize care across sectors in the next provincial election.
Dr. Brooke Richardson
Care scholar and activist
Co-Founder, CEO & President, Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition