The OACAS Youth for Change Steering Committee* shares five ways on how your school can better support children and youth in care
Children and youth in care need extra supports at school but we don’t want you to out us when you provide them. Every school should have one designated staff person who knows our story who we can reach out to. This designated staff person can then discuss with us whether we want other teachers to know about our situation. One designated staff person means we don’t have to tell our story over and over again - the reason we dread going back to school in September. But that staff person can’t only be helping children and youth in care, because that will draw the kind of attention to us that we want to avoid.
...when you are making decisions about us. We know our needs, although we don’t always know what’s available to us. Don’t only consult with our caregivers and other adults. Bring our voice into all educational decisions that involve us, including IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and accommodations. Truly hearing our voice means active listening, understanding there’s a power dynamic that makes it difficult for us to speak openly, not making assumptions, and asking rather than telling.
We have been separated from our families. We often have had to move schools and give up our friends. We may live with people we don’t know well. Sometimes we live in group homes, which comes with a variety of challenges, such as not always getting a good night’s sleep. We might not have lunch money. We are not getting all the emotional and life skills training that children living with their parents get every day as a matter of course. In My Real Life Book children and youth in and from care spoke in depth about our challenges and our solutions. The Bus Ride Home is another way you learn more about who we are. If we are comfortable, we might even share our experiences with you too, but regardless, we encourage you to learn.
...are closely tied to our needs. Don’t make assumptions. Meet us where we are at. There is no one size fits all for the supports we need, even if we’re from the same culture or identities (e.g., Indigenous, LGBTQ+, African-Canadian, living with a disability, religious minority). Have a conversation with us so you can get to know who we truly are and what we truly need for support. Do your own research, check your own biases, don’t make assumptions. Resources like One Vision, One Voice, for example provide detail about the impact that being African-Canadian can have on our experience with the Ontario child welfare system.
It’s the most appropriate starting place to navigate support for children and youth in care. Many children and youth in care have experienced trauma. Research shows that trauma impacts our brain development, our sense of safety in school, and our ability to learn. A trauma-aware or trauma-informed school is one where adults in the school community are trained to recognize and respond in a supportive way to students who have experienced trauma. A trauma informed school is one that instead of penalizing behaviours that can be seen as delinquent, uses constructive methods to fix the problem. Instead of detentions, suspensions, and expulsions, such a school might organize a support group at recess. You can learn more about trauma-informed schools here.
*The Youth for Change Steering Committee is comprised of youth from care from across Ontario who help advise OACAS on changes they would like to see for young people in and from the Ontario child welfare system related to advocacy, policy and programming changes.