Nourishing Resilience – Youth in Care Need More

I come from a family where food is a medium for expressing love. Dinner isn’t just a meal, it’s our chance to reconnect and talk about the day. Special occasions are always marked with special meals with everyone together in the kitchen and around the table. We have our traditional Greek and seasonal favourites and the Birthday girl or boy always gets to choose the menu on their day.

I learned to cook on my Mom’s apron strings and licking the spoon was the reward. Now, my kids are learning how to chop and mix and crack eggs just like I did. It’s an important cycle because in the kitchen we learn not just how to prepare food but how to nourish a family.

A couple weeks ago, I heard a presentation about Aunt Leah’s and the work they do to support youth in foster care to become more resilient and realize their own potential. They were there to tell our committee of food security policy wonks and funders about their ‘Cooking Club’, which gives young moms cooking skills and the chance to gather and share in the kitchen.

A young man named Ivery shared his personal story. He explained how he sometimes didn’t have much food and would just have pasta and butter for dinner, because he couldn’t afford basic healthy foods like vegetables or fruit. Luckily, Aunt Leah’s was there to get him through the lean times.

Even if you don’t come from a food-centric family, it’s heart-breaking to hear about someone not having enough to eat a healthy diet. Sadly, Ivery’s story is not uncommon among youth in the foster care system. Poverty is more likely and 45% of teens leaving foster care will end up on the streets within three years.

According to Drew Stewart who works at Aunt Leah’s, a big gap for youth in care is that they are effectively kicked out once they turn 19. It’s a pretty tough measure for kids who haven’t had an easy childhood to begin with and then are expected to make it on their own without any further support.

I asked Drew about what could help to reduce poverty levels, which are so high among former foster kids. He suggests BC could follow Ontario’s example and extend care until aged 21 within a broader strategy to ensure the well-being of BC’s foster children.

On October 23rd Saskatchewan announced that they will be developing a Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy, which leaves BC as the last place in Canada without one. Part of BCAHL’s rationale for a provincial level strategy is the need for policies that prevent or mitigate the effects of poverty to be coordinated across ministries.
This complex problem can be unravelled by listening to people with lived experience, it’s not just about learning to cook – it’s about food security, relationships and attachment, poverty and adequate supports for youth in care.

When I asked Ivery what advice he would give to the elected officials and policymakers to prevent poverty for former youth in care, he answered with a question. “I would ask them…could your child could live on his or her own at aged nineteen?”

Thinking about my own boys, I can see Ivery’s point, I expect I’ll be providing financial and emotional support to my kids well past age 19. BC’s kids in care deserve more – let’s give them a system of support as part of a made-in-BC Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
November 2014

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