Here’s a photo of the Honourable Mary McNeil, British Columbia’s Minister of Children and Family Development sitting on a stage at the Roundhouse Community Centre on Mary 23 holding a framed 14 by 17 inch photo of me.
I didn’t stage this surreal event – it actually transpired without any interference from myself. It was part of a night of food, song, and dance in celebration of BC Child and Youth in Care Week which runs May 20 to 26. The annual observance was proclaimed by the provincial government in 2011 in order to acknowledge and celebrate youth in care and help combat negative stereotypes and social stigmas. It is the only week of its kind in Canada.
I rarely attend these events anymore as I’m 30 and no longer consider myself a youth but my friend Parveen Khtaria insisted I come. And hey, who can turn down a free dinner? Khtaria, a former youth in care herself, delivered a powerful speech about the potential of youth in and from care and chose to honour the lives and experiences of four former youth in care who she felt exemplified success. For some reason, bless her heart, she chose to honour me as both a former youth in care and a journalist.
She produced photos of her honourees and passed them along to the dignitaries on stage. As it happened, mine landed in the hands of the minister.
I grew up in British Columbia’s foster care system which meant that McNeil’s predecessors were my legal parents. I never met them but their decisions had an enormous impact on my life. Seeing a minister display my photo for all to see held enormous symbolic significance for me.
The event was presented in part by the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks which I have seen evolve into a confident, sophisticated movement of people who possesses a profound sense of identity, vision, and purpose. And that vision is catching on.
In her own speech McNeil announced that the government will soon launch a program which would allow five recent university graduates who grew up in foster care to intern for the ministry. She noted that this program was created in response to requests from many youth in and from care who expressed an interest in working for the Ministry
On the surface a modest internship program doesn’t sound like a big deal but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time the Ministry has attempted to recruit former youth in care as employees.
I’ve always felt there has been a divide between people who work for the Ministry (social workers, policy makers, support staff) and those who currently or have received government support (youth in and from care). I welcome McNeil’s announcement as an earnest attempt to elevate the status and voice of youth in and from care within the ministry.