Former youth worker Doug Lowney remembers watching Alex Gervais do BMX tricks at this Abbotsford skate park. BRIELLE MORGAN

June 6, 2017

When a family hears that knock at the door, life changes. It can move children from homes, take parents to court, and alter relationships forever.

If you haven’t had a social worker or child protection officer at your door, chances are you may know someone who has. Those knocks happen on tens of thousands of doors cross the country leading to tens of thousands of children being placed in “out-of-home care”.

According to the latest data from the Child Welfare Research Portal more than 60,000 kids across the country are living outside their family home. For some kids this means living with foster families. Others are living with older siblings or people from their community. Some are in group homes or temporary hotel placements.

Kids are often moved from place-to-place while they are in care; they are not only shuffled between homes and neighbourhoods but also schools, social workers and caregivers.

Alex Gervais was a Métis youth in care in B.C. In September 2015, Alex took his own life just as he was “aging out.”

Discourse Media Credit: “Alex at 18. Photo from Alex Gervais’ family, shared by the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth.”

 

In the wake of the tragedy, many questions were raised about the care system and its impact on youth.  Alex moved 17 times and had 23 caregivers and social workers before he died. How common is his experience?

 

Our partner, Discourse Media, spoke with youth, social workers, and Métis leaders about Alex’s story and the lack of permanency for kids in care.

Given the devastating, inter-generational effects of colonial, racist policies, Indigenous kids are  over-represented in the foster system. A recent report in BC states that approximately 60 per cent of youth in care in the province are Indigenous, despite the fact that Indigenous children make up only eight per cent of B.C.’s total child population.

When youth in foster care turn 19, they ‘age out’ which means they are suddenly on their own with little support. They have to find their own place to live, a job or arrange to go back to school.

Youth in and from care tell us “this deficit of hope” has an impact on them.

Our child welfare system has a massive impact on Canadian families. It is bubbling over with stories, really important stories, but you probably haven’t heard many of them. Because of privacy laws. Because of our history of colonization and the resulting loss of trust. Because these systems are incredibly complex and hard to report on.

The stories that are told tend to be cyclical: A child in government care dies and everyone scrambles to pin the blame on someone – parents, foster parents, social workers, and so on. Months later, when the watchdog responsible for policing child welfare releases a report, there’s a flurry of media coverage—as there was in Alex’s case–and then everything goes quiet. In the space between those stories – about death and systemic failure – you’ll find very few uplifting stories.        

Youth in and from care tell us “this deficit of hope” has an impact on them. Many see media as a barrier to positive change, rather than a catalyst for it.

So, how can we, as media makers, better serve people impacted by child welfare systems?

We have to meet people “where they are.”

Together with community partners, we developed a plan to make space for people to share stories that are too often side-stepped or silenced. In this series, we will explore what we’ve heard from the people inside this community. We’re taking our cues from people directly impacted, inviting them to join us in producing stories and community events.

Let’s Listen.

 

More Stories From This Series

A non-tragic story about B.C.’s child welfare system

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Stephen Nicholson’s Artwork and Experience

Stephen Nicholson is an artist living in British Columbia. Stephen identifies as an Aboriginal gay man living with Fetal Alcohol… Read more »

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