June 4–10 is BC Youth in Care week. It’s a time to celebrate our province’s amazing, diverse, resilient children and youth living in foster care. In this piece, Sam—an adult advocate for youth in care and a former youth in care herself—reflects on her experiences in the child welfare system and celebrates her successes and her community.
On Saturday, I was having lunch with one of the Federation of BC Youth in Care Network’s founding members, Teresa. It reminded me of the first time we met in October 2001. I had aged out a year before and knew nothing about youth in care networking.
The other thing about 2001 and being a former youth in care is having role models. Even at that time, I don’t think I knew someone from care who had a bachelors’ degree, none who had a master’s or higher. We were not in management, executive, or decision-making positions.
Flash forward to 2018 and when I look around the youth in care community I see so much progress. So many young people are working towards degrees. I know, work with, and am witness to alumni from care with master’s and doctorate degrees. We are managers, business owners, executive directors, lecturers, and even assistant deputy ministers. We are everywhere, doing all the things. In a system that has so many barriers in place for us, we’ve found ways to rise.
I’m frequently asked, “Why do you think this is?” And for me this seems like I’m asked to produce some sort of Sheldon Cooper–worthy algorithm of success. That’s a lot of pressure because I don’t have all the answers for everyone’s individual experience.
What I can say is what worked for me and that’s connection and opportunity. Being connected to people who have a shared lived experience to learn, to create, to talk, to be silly, to eat meals with, to advocate with, to heal with... this not only helped me get my degree and to the place I am now, but in so many ways it saved my life.
Without opportunities who knows where I would have ended up. It is important that organizations see lived experience with the care system as an asset. This starts with youth volunteer opportunities to help build skills, then paid opportunities and of course the opportunity for mentorship. It always surprises me when I see positions open up to work directly with youth in/from care, and having lived experience is not considered an asset.
For me, opportunities and connections have been the boat in a flood. I could have stayed on my roof, hoping the storm would pass or got on the boat and seen if it would take me to something safer and better. I have so much gratitude for it all.
Sam Pothier brings 35 years of lived and work experience to the child and youth care field. Her specialities include youth engagement and development, stakeholder engagement, and project management. Sam currently has her own consulting business in Vancouver, and is the Secretary for the International Foster Care Organization.