It’s Time To Make Canada’s Children And Youth In Care A Priority

Opening address by Laura Eggertson, President of the Adoption Council of Canada, at the ACC‘s Urgency Around Permanency Summit.

laura-eggertson-adoptionThank all of you for coming. I know we’re here today because we share the same goal.

We want a better future for the thousands of children and youth in government care across our country. A future that includes forever families for all of them.

The sad fact is, we don’t even now exactly how many children and youth are in the child welfare system across Canada. And we certainly don’t know how many of them are legally free to join a permanent family.

We think there are roughly 30,000 waiting children and youth. We know that the overwhelming majority of them will age out of the child welfare system without a permanent, legal connection to at least one caring, committed adult.

That’s our definition of permanency. Aging out, on the other hand, is what another colleague of mine calls a ticket to homelessness.

These are our kids. Canada’s kids. Most of the time, they’re invisible to the majority of Canadians. They `fly under the radar,` as my friend Jesse said last night.

Most Canadians don`t know these children and youth exist. They aren’t aware that they need permanent homes.

They don’t know how they can welcome these young people into their own families. They aren`t pressing their MPPs and MLAs and MPs to make permanency a priority.

We’re here today to change that.

This summit arose after I’d spoken with the Governor General of Canada about what we both know is a crisis. He suggested we gather people with a stake in the outcome.

We thought that together, we could brainstorm about how to make finding permanent families for children and youth in care an issue of higher public and political priority.

So we did. That’s where you come in.

I’m especially excited about the young people who are courageous enough to share their stories today, both on the panel and during discussions. They have important recommendations about how to make it better for the thousands of other young people still in care.

They are all members of the Adoption Council of Canada’s Youth Speak Out teams. They advocate for permanency in their provinces – and they are going to make change happen.

There`s another reason I`m here today.

Just over 16 months ago, an 18-year-old young woman named Elissa was found dead in an apartment in Vancouver. She overdosed on crystal meth.

Elissa was a bright, funny, articulate young woman who wanted to get better from the abuse she experienced in her birth family, and in the foster care system.

She was eventually adopted. Her Mom loved her dearly and fought hard for her.

But the same child welfare system that found Elissa a family let Elissa and her Mom down when they came back to it seeking help and support and mental health services, to help Elissa heal.

We need to find permanent families for children and youth in care – and then we need to support those families with all the resources they need to succeed.

I’m here for all the smart, loving, passionate young people who come out of the foster care system feeling unloved, and often suicidal. They can’t understand why they are worth loving.

They don’t think anyone cares what happens to them. We must recognize that trauma, mental health, suicide, and time spent in the child welfare system are intimately connected.

We’re here because we all need to do our work differently. We can make changes if we start to work together on permanency.

Not having a strong, supported family is at the heart of many of the issues we are trying to solve separately – from homelessness to human trafficking.

Let’s take our cues from the speakers you will hear today. Instead of putting our resources into higher monthly payments for young people leaving foster care, let’s hire more workers to find families BEFORE our kids age out of care.

We don’t need more transition workers; we need more permanency workers.

We need to believe no child or teenager or young adult is unadoptable. We need to leave this meeting today prepared to raise our voices. To make waves. To be creative. To demand safe, stable, loving and permanent families for all of our kids.

It`s time we become leaders. It’s also time we push our elected leaders to make the needs of children and youth in government care a priority.

According to a Globe and Mail article, provincial/territorial social services ministers are meeting in the coming months to talk about the over-representation of Aboriginal children in foster care.

That’s a start.

We also need them to talk about why we’re housing 10-year-olds in hotels and 7-year-olds in group homes, instead of finding them families.

And we need their bosses, the premiers and the prime minister, to talk about it too. Let’s make sure they show up for our most vulnerable children and youth.

This is an edited version of the opening address by Laura Eggertson, President of the Adoption Council of Canada, at the ACC‘s Urgency Around Permanency: A Stakeholder’s Summit, November 5, 2014, in Ottawa. To find out more about what you can do to help find permanency for the 30,000 children and youth in government care in Canada, visit the Adoption Council of Canada website

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