The underdog is the individual who all bets are against, who given their background, is not expected to succeed. We, as humans, take many things for granted in life. There are some people given many privileges early on which allow them to reach success without running into major barriers. However, there are others who just can’t seem to catch a break and have to swim against the currents of life every day to make it through. As we become a more compassionate society, we realize the importance of rooting for the underdog and providing them with supports that enable them to overcome their difficulties.
The underdogs we will talk about today are the youth of the child welfare system, who have been in effect raised by our government. While we trust our government to provide us with many things, they do not make good parents. The statistics of children in the system can be harrowing. In Canada, approximately 63,000 children live in care without a permanent home. Sadly, things have only gotten worse over time, incidences of child maltreatment investigations have increased between 2008-2018 from 54.05 to 62.89 per 1000 children. Only 46% of children in government care will graduate from high school, compared to a graduation rate of 83% in the general population. Additionally, these children face higher levels of mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, substance abuse, poorer physical health outcomes, and even higher child-mortality rates.
In recent years, “adulthood” has taken on a new definition, with young adults entering the workforce, completing their education, and starting families at older ages. Each year, approximately 2,300 youth “age out” of the child welfare system, as young as 18, and sent off into a world on their own. This abrupt removal of supports places young adults in a very difficult position, and further increases their barriers to success in life. Youth from care are 200 times more likely to experience homelessness than their peers, enroll in post-secondary education at half the rate of the general population and compared to the average Canadian, will earn an average of $326,000 less income over the course of their lifetime.
Let’s get into the details of the system in Ontario. In Ontario, the Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) are the district-specific organizations that are overseen by the provincial government to provide child protective services and care for children who are removed from their homes. CAS is a non-governmental organization which receives its funding from the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services. Like many governmental funding sources, CAS is not adequately funded to really break down the systemic problems that contribute to the above harrowing statistics.
Creating better outcomes for Canada’s most at risk children and youth
1. Prevention programs and assisting children and families at-risk. Poverty and mental illness are often underlying reasons why children end up in care. If CAFC can provide different types of prevention and early-intervention supports for parents through partnerships with family-serving agencies, they help keep kids with their families and not have to come into government care.
2. Improving outcomes for children in government care – specifically improving high school graduation rates. As previously mentioned, education outcomes of kids in care are bleak. CAFC believes that education is the best chance for a young person to overcome their past and be launched into a better future. The Foundation helps to fund tutoring, mentoring, technology, access to enrichment programs, sport and art, and mental health supports. These supports help to keep kids on track in school and improve their chances of graduating high school.
3. Supporting youth who have aged out of care (18-29). Over 50% of CAFC’s grants are devoted to this population of youth. Given the lower rates of high school education, employment is the next logical step in a series of uphill battles that these youth are set to face. CAFC is focused in supporting these youth in getting on track with their education plans, and for youth who have graduated high school, they offer national postsecondary scholarships, fellowship programs, and bursaries. On top of educational initiatives, they are working to get these youth on track with good jobs. They offer youth employment training, preemployment counselling, career track training, and internship opportunities through their various corporate networks.
Through these initiatives, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada has made lasting impact in transforming the lives of over 19,000 Canadian children and youth. Based on the 2019-2020 impact report, $9.9 million was dispersed among CAFC’s programs and initiatives. With this, they provided 4,295 families with resources that enabled them to overcome their challenges that put them at risk of entering child welfare. 9,658 children in care were given access to educational and recreational supports to help them achieve academic success. 6,024 youth were given access to resources that made their transition out of care successful and offered them a chance at a better future.
Strength to change lives – meet Jaqueline
While all these outcomes provide us with quantitative measurements of CAFC’s impact and success, Valerie reminded us about the importance of acknowledging the smaller victories, and of the strength and resilience of the young people, sharing a short story about a young woman the Foundation has supported.
The story she shared was of Jacqueline* (pseudonym). She was just 17 years old when she was told she’d have to move out of her group home by her 18th birthday. It was the only home she’d known since age 11, when a child protection investigation found that she had been a victim of severe abuse and neglect at home. With no other family available to take her in, Jacqueline was placed in permanent government care – that is, until she turned 18. Still living with the effects of childhood trauma and ill-prepared for this sudden independence, Jaqueline struggled with homelessness and poverty for several years. But it was her own strength and perseverance that kept her going. After a conversation with a social worker pointing her to the Foundation’s scholarship application, Jacqueline was admitted to a Bachelors program with funding from CAFC. Recently, she’s completed her Masters in Social Work and is now working with young people involved with the child welfare system, just as she was. She is active in youth-led advocacy and committed to pushing for change that will support better long-term outcomes.
2020: A year of extraordinary challenges
Valerie also commented on the recent challenges that Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada has endured throughout the year 2020. CAFC is in the bullseye of causes that have been impacted by both the spotlight on systematic racial inequality and the COVID-19 crisis.
The recent social unrest surrounding the issue of social equity and systematic racism is profoundly evident when looking at the over-representation of Black and Indigenous youth in the child welfare system. In Toronto, 40% of kids in care are Black compared to only an 8.9% representation of Blacks in the general population. Nationwide, there is severe over representation of Indigenous youth in care, with 25.5% in Ontario, reaching 62-85% in other provinces. This year has motivated the team to work even harder at levelling the playing field for these youth.
COVID-19 had an immediate effect on the population, particularly on the youth who have aged out of care. Many of them lost their jobs, and the social service resources that they depended on were shut down, such as counselling sessions, food banks, and shelter drop-ins. They were also told to self-isolate, which would pose as a great difficulty for youth who are so dependent on their network, community, and support systems. CAFC was able to pivot quickly to address these concerns, by shifting their strategy to create a COVID-19 Response Program, which in the early stages was directed towards former youth in care, but expanded with the assistance of agency partners across the country to grant out directly and also include children in care and families. On the fundraising end, they were able to raise an astounding $10 million over a two-month period through private philanthropy, to support these emergency grants, their record fundraising achievement to-date. This demonstrated a truly impressive team effort and dedication by the CAFC team to mobilize in crisis and provide the support needed to help children, youth and families weather the storm.
This 40-year old organization, under the leadership of Valerie McMurtry, has been able to expand its reach to youth across the country and provide them with the supports to help process their traumas and have the opportunity at a successful and independent life of their own making. This year, the CAFC team has demonstrated the power of philanthropy in the wake of COVID-19 and the strength of their team.
“We want everyone in Canada to stand up for children and youth involved in child welfare,” says McMurtry. “Canada’s young people are our future and they need and deserve our collective investment. We firmly believe that every child has the potential to change the world, and it’s up to each of us to help the most vulnerable kids realize that potential.”
Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada is an iconic Canadian philanthropic organization that does immensely important work, and we felt incredibly inspired after learning about them. If you felt inspired by this article, please consider getting involved in one of the following ways:
2. Participate in the Stand Up For Kids campaign, by signing the pledge, creating your own community event, and fundraising.
3. Volunteer – they are currently looking people to volunteer virtually and for senior level committee participation.
4. Follow them on social media to hear about their ongoing work: