As young people with lived experience in government care, we appreciated the International Transitions from Child Protection Symposium’s honest look at the child protection system. The Symposium shed light on ongoing issues that we’ve experienced and continue to hear about from young people in care today. We were grateful that many of the presenters spoke their truth rather than sugarcoating things. This resonated. We must be willing to talk about the hard things that are currently happening if we expect to be able to change them. Success stories are great, but they don’t always provide the whole picture. 

In this blog post, we will share key learnings and experiences from the Symposium. We will also provide recommendations for making future Symposiums more youth-friendly and improving transitions from care in Canada.

Our Key Learnings from the Symposium

One of the most valuable experiences of the Symposium was its diverse delegation. Coming together across sectors, regions, and countries allowed for the exchange of different perspectives, expertise, and resources. By fostering collaboration, we can develop innovative strategies that transcend borders, ensuring more effective approaches to safeguarding children’s wellbeing.  It was great to witness so much expertise in one place. Why not expand the conversation even further to include other sectors like Education, Health, Justice, etc.?

Some of the other sessions that stood out to us were the reflective activities led by the Tamarack Institute, and hearing from the panel of speakers with lived experience. The ideas and collectivism shared during and following the Symposium were lovely to experience, and showed that people care, are eager to learn, and are willing to adapt to make improvements.

Our Recommendations for Future Symposiums

Our hope for future symposiums on child protection is to have more young people from government care participating and presenting. Youth are the experts of their experience and should always be involved in developing solutions. 

It was clear that most people at the symposium understood the value of youth engagement; however, we were quite surprised that there were not more young people present. While at the Symposium, we facilitated a discussion about this and came up with two key recommendations to make a more youth-friendly conference in the future: 

  1. Funding to support participation: Most adults are financially supported to attend conferences and symposiums and are also typically paid to attend. Young people need equivalent financial supports to participate, particularly if they are being asked to give up work or school to be there. Organizations should also be supported to meaningfully engage youth (i.e., prepare them in advance of the event, help arrange travel, support them throughout the event, etc.). 
  2. Creation of youth-friendly spaces: Conferences have historically been adult spaces. Efforts must be made to make the space and activities trauma-informed, neurodiverse-friendly, and accessible to youth. Here are a few suggestions to make the sessions more accessible to everyone: 
  • Increase the frequency of breaks throughout the session. 
  • Use easily understandable language to ensure that all participants can follow along. 
  • Provide trigger warnings if heavy topics are going to be discussed. 
  • Allow participants to move around during the session to avoid discomfort. 
  • Have support staff available to assist those who may need additional support after discussing heavy topics. 
  • Incorporate more youth-led sessions to create a more inclusive and diverse environment. 
  • Maintain a better balance between listening to participants and brainstorming ideas. 
  • Assign a dedicated note-taker to capture all important points discussed during the session. 

Finally, we strongly recommend creating a youth planning committee to support the organization of future events if they aim to have youth participants. 

We would have loved to see more youth engagement and involvement at the symposium. We (youth) are more capable than we are given credit for and will be leading many of the changes that policy makers discuss, and academics write papers about. We look forward to seeing a youth at every table at the next event. 

Our Recommendations for Equitable Transitions

Below we share what we believe to be the most important factors for Equitable Transitions, with suggestions drawn from the symposium and our own experiences:

  • Having a consistent point of contact that is youth-friendly during the transition from care is incredibly valuable. This point of contact can take many forms such as a navigator, guide, peer support, or caring adult. 
  • Adults who provide support to young people need to be mindful of the language they use. They should avoid referring to young people as “clients” and avoid using acronyms. Instead, they should use language that is easy to understand and shows respect to young people.
  • If there is a team of support people working with a youth transitioning from care, it’s important to have one main point of contact or a coordinator. This way, the young person doesn’t have to keep everyone up-to-date, remember all the details, or make decisions with different individuals. 
  • Young people need to have supports outside of their government workers. Community-based support people should be a part of a young person’s team. 
  • It’s important to make leaving care readiness-based instead of age-based. Particularly if a young person has recently experienced trauma or has a disability, they should be given the opportunity to leave care when they feel capable and ready.
  • There is a need for more foster homes that will support teenagers into their young adulthood. Many youth are forced into independent living at a young age (16 or younger) because there aren't enough foster placements. While they may have access to funding and support, they are essentially having to transition from the care of a family at an earlier age than they should. To address this issue, we need to support foster parents better and address the stigma associated with teenagers.
  • Youth who are transitioning from care and trying to figure out their lives should have access to unconditional funding or income. This will help them avoid being forced into something just to access financial support, since many supports are tied to participation in school or training programs.
  • All provinces should provide funding support beyond the age of 21, such as tuition waivers and other supports for youth who have left care. Sometimes, young people may not be ready to start school or access support immediately but would benefit from it later on.
  • Regardless of the province in which they were in care, all young people should have access to supports. Provinces should establish arrangements to provide support to youth who move to another province, so that they do not lose out on benefits or supports just because they have moved.

We are grateful to have met so many individuals who are committed to supporting young people in their transitions from government care. We look forward to collaborating on solutions.