Ripped away: Indigenous youth describe aging out of care

"I felt like I was just getting thrown out and that I was just garbage to the ministry."

During Friday’s hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, three youth shared their experiences of transitioning out of foster care, illustrating just how far the ripple effects from mistreatment of Indigenous communities can travel. 

Shae-Lynn Nosky, Cheylene Moon and Fialka Jack all spent time in foster care and all three experienced the jarring effects of aging out of care at 19.

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"Turning 19 when you're parented by the government is no cake walk," said Nosky, 22, who aged out of foster care in 2014. "At 19, you don't just age out of care and lose financial support. You also age out of every service you'd previously been receiving support from."

For Jack, the transition out of care was also abrupt. On her 19th birthday, her social workers informed her she had to leave the group home she was in by noon or they would call the cops. She was given garbage bags to pack her belongings and was sent to a new city with no friends, family or supports that she knew. 

"When you're aging out of care they don't really give you the preparation to move. You're not even told what's going to happen on your 19th birthday," Jack said during the panel.

"I felt like I was just getting thrown out and that I was just garbage to the ministry."

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous children account for just under eight per cent of all children aged four and under in Canada. However, they account for more than half of the children in foster care in this age category. 

"I wish I could say that I had a great experience (in foster care) but I had so much ripped from me, it is hard to see it like that," Jack said.

"How many more of my brothers and sisters have to be ripped away from their culture? How many more will grow up in a colonized world where they'll never get the chance to learn from their land or their language and our ancestors?" 

For Erin Pavan, who is the manager of the Strive youth in care transition program, the term aging out is "too gentle" and, in fact, the experience is more like "being pushed off a cliff."

"It's so artificial. You don't kick people out of your life on their birthday," Pavan said. 

Pavan also explained that a lot of the supports given to youth after they age out of care are precarious, rely on meeting strict requirements and often lack safety nets.  

“If we’re trying to catch the most vulnerable youth, the youth who are slipping through the cracks…the youth who often end up missing or murdered, these are often the youth who are not actually able to attend school or get themselves to a program,” Pavan said.

“There’s nothing for the youth who are really struggling.”

For Pavan, the focus needs to be on keeping youth out of care to begin with.

“We want to do something to end the over-representation of Indigenous youth in care,” Pavan said.

To do this, Pavan suggested Indigenous communities need to be supported when they want to take over jurisdiction of their child and family services. She also added that there needs to be more family strengthening programs and support for parents who may have experienced intergenerational trauma.

“We need to prioritize the programming that’s going to help parents keep their children at home,” she said.

“We need to think about why Indigenous kids are being put into care…no one should be forced by poverty to have their kids be put in care.”

The hearings for MMIWG continues until Sunday evening and many hearings are open to the public or available to view via live stream.

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