Turning 18 in care
February 13, 2018
Let me tell you about Jess.
When Jess came into government care, she was only 8 years old. The day she arrived, she was introduced to the first of many social workers who would play an important role in her life. In a play room, with toys strewn from corner to corner, the worker did her best to ease some of the stress Jess might have been feeling in an unfamiliar environment. She was a happy girl, but as most youngsters tend to be, also very curious.
“Why am I here? Where’s mom and dad?”
As the first point of contact with child Welfare, this was a difficult question for the worker, as it is for social workers today, many of whom are young themselves and in what might be their first real role in the social services field. In this situation, Jess needed to know that the worker, and all those involved with her and her parents, were there to help.
For years, Jess remained in care, moving from placement to placement. Without a consistent support network and familiar faces to keep her grounded, her behaviour became erratic and difficult to manage. Always, running, Jess went from group home, to treatment centre, from the streets, to a youth shelter, to – finally – the Calgary Young Offenders Centre.
Upon her release, Jess found herself in another group home, but this one was different; this one was stable. She finally had the familiar faces she’d been looking for and peers with life struggles like hers whom she could talk with and receive support from. But finding these supports so close to her 18th birthday meant they were temporary. For the first time, Jess would be moving on, not because of a behaviour issue, but simply because she was about to ‘age out’, a term used in the social services field for those who reach the age limit for housing, shelter or program.
Take a moment to think about that. For most teens, turning 18 means graduation and the transition to adulthood, all the while likely being supported by parents, teachers, brothers, sisters and friends; that wasn’t the case for Jess. For her, like many youth who struggle with homelessness and street life, she was an adult long before 18. She grew up fast. She had to.
How does someone whose entire life – from that first experience in the play room, to the last day of 17 – learn to deal with the unknown? For Jess, fear and anxiety might have set in, but she was strong and was lucky to have a network of caregivers always looking out for her. Like that little girl in the play room, she fought through it.
A social worker’s job is to support these young people in the present and prepare them for the future. Thankfully, these lessons sunk in; Jess had to become an adult, and learned that not all mistakes are permanent and to feel secure in her independence.
Today, she has a job and safe place to stay. But every youth has a different story, a different way to cope and a different level of resiliency. Supporters and caregivers always hope to see these young people happy and healthy, but many only get the opportunity to do so until their clients’ turn 18 years old.
Fortunately, Wood’s Homes has many programs that help support a young person’s transition to adulthood beyond that age.
Through the Linking Employment, Abilities and Development (LEAD) program, vulnerable young people (ages 15-24) are given the opportunity to gain valuable skills that will assist them in both their work and home life. The Youth Culinary Arts Program (YCAP) prepares at-risk and homeless youth (ages 15-24) for employment in the culinary field. New Horizon provides at-risk young adults (ages 18-24) with the opportunity to live in furnished apartments while receiving on-site support from Wood’s Homes staff. Other services include Wood’s Homes’ EXIT Community Outreach and medical clinic for vulnerable youth.