Vancouver Foundation

Fall 2016

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FOSTERING CHANGE For more information about how you can support youth aging out of care in British Columbia, call Kristin in Donor Services at 604.629.5186 or visit p a g e 3 0 I V a n c o u v e r F o u n d a t i o n l F a l l 2 0 1 6 Photo: Courtesy Vancouver Foundation For the past three years, Vancouver Foundation's Fostering Change initiative has been working to improve the lives of youth who have "aged out" of foster care after reaching age 19. Unlike 92 per cent of children in B.C. who receive financial, social and emotional support throughout their 20s, youth emerging from public care are often left out in the cold—figuratively and some- times literally. e most recent phase of Fostering Change's campaign was a wildly successful petition drive called Write the Future. e petition called for more financial support, relationships with caring adults, and doorways to giving back to the community through cultural, artistic and volunteer activities. Write the Future's online efforts and on-the-ground outreach—in which youth volunteers canvassed at events like Car-Free Day, Italian Day, and the Richmond Night Market—gathered a whopping 18,000 signatures from B.C. residents in only eight weeks. Meredith Graham, 28, is an advisor to the Fostering Change project who had experience with the foster care system as a teen- ager. "A lot of the general public doesn't know about our experi- ences in care and transitioning out of care," she says. "ey don't know that as of age 19, everything ends." But the massive response to the petition was the positive flip side. "When people learned the truth, it was just as surprising how quickly and how strongly they wanted to make things dif- ferent for young people who journey through that system. So seeing those lightbulbs flicker and then go on, and having such a visible, visceral change in people's attitudes has been super rad." Research shows that over 70 per cent of British Columbians believe government and communities are not doing enough to support aged-out foster youth. Seventy-one per cent favour the provincial government supporting them with a living-expense stipend—to help cover housing, food, education and health care costs—until they turn 25. A significant factor that made the Write e Future project a great success was the inclusive way in which it was created, says Kris Archie, Fostering Change's Manager, Youth Engagement. "We were able to engage community partners, grantees, and young people in spreading the word about it," she says. "People took the time to send personal messages to their networks, ask- ing them to learn more and support the work." A broad network of youth service and advocacy organiza- tions helped shape the message of the campaign, including Aunt Leah's Place, First Call BC (the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition), and the Federation of BC Youth In Care Networks. e co-operative approach showed up in the results, says Archie. "ere's a clear sense of support for young people exiting foster care in our province and that feels really good." Graham agrees that Write e Future's roots in community and youth input set it apart. "e Fostering Change initiative believes in the principle of 'nothing for us, without us,'" she says. "ey consulted with young people the entire way, even asking things like 'What do you think about these colours for the advertis- ing?' ey actually had us at the table to converse with politicians and community leaders. I hadn't really understood that principle before or seen it in action, and being part of that was great." Mark Gifford, Director of Grants and Community Initia- tives at Vancouver Foundation, says he had hoped to get around 10,000 signatures. Almost doubling that number was a pleasant surprise. "e three ingredients of the petition—financial, rela- tional and community support—are critical to youth in their 20s," he says. "We all get through our 20s with support from families and friends on these fronts. It's the most normal thing in the world. And people get it. It's a no-brainer." Results of the petition have been presented to provincial and municipal governments, and also with community and business leaders. But Gifford says the most valuable outcome of the proj- ect so far has been to identify an audience willing to engage with Vancouver Foundation in advocating for increased financial, relational, and community supports. "What we've done is build an audience of 18,000 people. We want to bring their support and build on it, pushing for change legislatively as well as on a local community level." By Tyee Bridge

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