Seven CCAS youth in care and two staff chaperones packed their bags and headed to Hamilton, to attend the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies’s (OACAS) tenth annual YouthCAN conference at McMaster University this past August. The conference theme was Your Story, Your Success, and the goal was to expose high school-aged youth in care to post-secondary options and career opportunities, as well as to develop leadership, build character and inspire youth to use their stories as a motivator for success.
A total of 260 youth in care and CAS staff chaperones from 37 agencies across the province participated in workshops, teambuilding activities and seminars about Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and Transitions from high school to university. The weekend was capped off with a motivational speaker (who shared her story of how she overcame adversity to find success), a talent show and a night of dancing.
Stewart Martin, one of the CCAS youth who attended, told us about his involvement in the conference’s talent show: “My role was to introduce the dancers and get the crowd involved. I loved my role. It helped me step outside my comfort zone. I also want to improve my public speaking, so it helped with that, too.” Stewart also shared his belief that, “this should be something every child in care experiences at least once, especially those going from high school into post-secondary. I highly recommend it to any youth thinking about going next year.”
YouthCAN (which stands for Youth Communication, Advocacy and Networking) is a multi-component program for youth in the care of Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario, and the Children’s Aid staff who work with them, facilitated by OACAS.
Another of this year’s CCAS youth attendees, 18-year-old Krizia Velasco, said that what she enjoyed best was that, “YouthCAN is a great way to connect with other kids in the system. It’s so nice to hear their stories and to share your story with people who actually understand. I have a really close friend now that I met through YouthCAN. Every day was a different type of excitement, a different adventure. The whole thing was so great.”
Pauline Umli, yet another CCAS youth in attendance at this year’s conference, said, “My favourite part was the talent show. I was nervous, and we were scared under the pressure, but once we started, it was so much fun! We used the song “Werk” by Rihanna and pulled up a whole bunch of people up on stage. We were all dancing together and having so much fun.”
The lucky CCAS staff who offered to chaperone the youth this year were Sang-Hee Park and Adelina Fathi - both Children's Service Workers, who had a blast seeing the youth in their element, playing, learning, interacting and having fun.
“More of our youth should be experiencing this. Hopefully by speaking about it, more workers will encourage their kids to go next year,” said Sang-Hee Park. “They began to build networks where they can support each other, something so many kids in care long for: a sense of belonging and being supported. By sharing their lived experience, the youth feel very empowered.”
YouthCAN is dedicated to improving the quality of care for youth in Ontario’s Child Welfare System, so that they are empowered, secure and able to realize their fullest potential.
Pauline Umli summed up the conference like this: “We might have a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, it’s easy to connect, because of where we all came from.”
Find more information on YouthCAN here.