Youth in Care are NOT OK!
Photo Voice: A collection of images symbolic of challenges faced by racialized youth in care
Community: We are "NOT" all in this together
The idea of "we are all in this together" is one that many have embraced during the pandemic. Although the idea is one of a collective "we" and a "common good" many racialized and marginalized youth in care have been unintentionally forgotten and left out, they are invisible. These learners are often not enrolled in school and have simply disappeared or fallen through the cracks. Youth in care often face multiple challenges where school and learning are simply not a priority and their traumas and experiences often play leading roles against access to education. Having a place of safety, a place to wash their clothes or even enough money to buy food takes precedent. How can those who are thrust to the sidelines even begin to negotiate the idea of a collective "we" or "community". Everyone has been effected differently by the pandemic and the notion that all learners are facing the same struggles is not true or realistic. Many children in care are facing insurmountable challenges that are magnified by isolation, lack of support, lack of advocacy and fragile systems that are overburdened and underfunded. The common good, community and collective we must be picked apart and examined to identify and recognize those who have become invisible and forgotten.
The support for youth in care at school is often too little for those suffering from trauma, isolation, lack of food, and housing. Ensuring every youth in care has access to wrap-around support is essential for youth in care to thrive amongst the chaos they often endure on a daily basis. Imagine feeling like you are alone, similar to this picture, maybe you have never been taught how to swim, maybe you have never been in an open body of water, maybe the distance seems never-ending. But what if you had someone there to encourage you. What if you had floaties or water wings! What if you knew that just beyond that rope, there were only 3 miles to shore and there was a boat waiting for you if you couldn't swim the whole way. What if you knew that the weather was going to change and the sun would warm the cold waters to make it easier to imagine success.
Systemic barriers are oftentimes invisible but further marginalize youth in care. Many times the barriers are insurmountable and youth who have had little support or faced trauma are unable to navigate these challenges alone. These youth learners need multiple means of support, time and understanding to reach their goals. The sign in the photograph depicts what can happen to youth in care. Many of us know that we could take a different path to reach to get to where we need to go. But, what if you didn't know where you were going. What if you had seen this sign before, and then again, and then again. What if this was the only sign you had ever seen. What if you had always been told you couldn't go any further.
Community: We are "NOT" all in this together
Having had the opportunity to work with youth in care during the pandemic, I have learned about and witnessed many of the challenges that face racialized youth in care. Not only do these youth face many challenges daily, but during the pandemic, many of these challenges have been magnified and have highlighted many of the gaps in the system that I may never have noticed had I been in a regular classroom. Moving forward as an educator my theory of change revolves around my practice and using my experience to informs the practice of other educators. As an educator l am more committed to building strong and meaningful relationships with my students because that connection is what drives their ability to engage a be present and hopefully learn. I am also focused on being a bridge and advocating for my students depending on what they need to be successful in the classroom and outside of it. I may not have all the answers, but I am firmly committed to thinking outside the box and working to make sure each student sees themselves as part of a community. On a systemic level, I believe that building relationships and collaborating with colleagues means we are all learning to problem solve and more minds working to solve problems results in more options for youth in care who struggle to attend, engage, or even graduate from high school. I also believe that building relationships with caregivers, foster parents’ child and youth workers and accessing community supports as well as understanding policy and protocols surrounding youth in care is incredibly important and beneficial for educators to be able to broaden our understanding of what youth in care experiences within the various social systems as they work toward their ultimate goal of finishing school. As educators working with a diverse population of youth, we should all be well versed in trauma-informed, inclusive and Anti-racist practice. This could mean a world of difference for racialized and marginalized youth in care and could mean that they feel included in their community, have access to multiple means of support and are able to navigate multiple barriers that could impede their success as learners.