“It’s up to you to decide what you want your life to be; we’re here to support your success.”
Those were the words that greeted the 200-plus attendees at this year’s YouthCAN conference, the 10th annual conference for youth in care in Ontario. Henry Morales, a program coordinator with YouthCAN, delivered the message and, in just a few words, captured the purpose of the conference: to create the circumstances for youth to flourish.
For the past 10 years, YouthCAN has organized an annual conference that aims to develop leaders, build character, and motivate and inspire youth in care to succeed through communication, advocacy, and networking opportunities. Hundreds of youth from across the country attend each year, along with dozens of children’s aid workers.
For the first time ever, this year’s three-day conference was held on a university campus, at McMaster University in Hamilton. The event was co-hosted by the McMaster Student Union. The setting was fitting for this year’s conference theme: Your Story, Your Success. The conference agenda was filled with storytelling, activities, and information sessions, all with the university serving as a backdrop to remind attendees that post-secondary school is accessible for them, as is the success that a post-secondary education sets students up for.
“The energy here has been high,” said Henry. He, alongside YouthCAN coordinators Brian Van Du and Aurora Fox, helped organize this year’s conference. “Everybody’s sticking with their groups and doing the group activities, checking out the awesome things McMaster has to offer and learning about the supports they have, as well.”
YouthCAN, a program facilitated by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, serves as the unifying voice for youth in care of Children’s Aid Societies in the province, and is focused on supporting youth in Ontario’s child welfare system to feel empowered, secure, and able to realize their fullest potential.
The YouthCAN conference offers such a rewarding experience that many youth keep coming back. For some, it’s the bonds that are made with other attendees; for others,
“YouthCAN allows foster kids to socialize in a space free of stigma,” said Brian, a former conference attendee and one of the dozen conference volunteers. He’s now entering his second year of studies at McMaster and was eager to share the campus experience with youth who are in a position he was once in. “And I’ve made some of my best friends at this conference.”
While the YouthCAN program is about to undergo a review, those who attended this year’s conference are eager to repeat the experience and continue to build their stories toward success.