My Presentation to the Youth Leaving Care Hearing

Below is my presentation to the Youth Leaving Care Hearing.  I was interviewed by a young man and found his questions to be quite informed.  I’ve included a link to the interview here.
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I am honoured to make a submission to your hearings. My name is Gail Beck and I am the Director of the Youth Outpatient and Outreach Psychiatry Program at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am also the psychiatrist to Arden Court Children’s Residence in Arden, Ontario and Genesis Group Homes for developmentally challenged young men. It is my experience particularly with these last two group of young people that compels me to make this submission.

I want to talk with you about three large topics: Developing Resilience, Family and Education.

Resilience relates to a person’s capacity to adapt to changes and it is one of the most important aspects of an individual’s character. You can have all the advantages that the world can provide and still not be resilient, or you can grow up in the most compromised circumstances and be resilient. An adult who cares about you, a strong sense of self, opportunities for reflection and the means to develop self-reliance are the most important factors in the development of resilience. Foster families and group homes can and should be trained in the development of resilience so that they can foster these circumstances for the young people in their care. Some activities that group homes and foster families can provide or facilitate that shown to be effective in the development of resilience include sports, wilderness and nature experiences, and access to the stories and ceremonies of one’s family or culture.

As far as family is concerned, I believe that our system of caring for children in struggling families needs more support for those families. There are often resources available to children and youth in care that they can never access when they are at home. Some of these resources include respite, extra funds for programs such as sports or music lessons and very specialized schooling or one-to-one support. I have seen all of these supports provided for youth and children in care but only rarely to families trying to support the same child or youth at home. I also want to stress that too often children lose their supports when they move home to quickly and so I do want to say to the children and youth and their families here today: As much as you want to, as much as your family wants you home, do not close your CAS file until you have gotten all of the support that the system has to offer: The social support, the educational support and the therapeutic support. Get the tools you need to be successful at 60, not 16.

My message regarding education is simple: study as hard as you can, as long as you can and use all of the supports that the educational system, the health care system and the child welfare system have to offer.

Earlier this year, I received the Order of Ontario in part for my work with children and youth living in care. The agencies that I have worked with asked three of my former patients to write letters about how my work with them affected their lives. I was thrilled to read of their successes. They are not only surviving, they are thriving and making valuable contributions to the communities in which they live and, most importantly, they all have good friends and happy families.

I have many days when I am not certain whether my patients will survive their depression or recover from the hurt they have experienced. I worry that youth will run away from their foster family or their group home and find themselves on the street with only dangerous ways to support themselves. However, those three people convinced me in their letters that the work that I am doing can help people change their lives. They were not overwhelmed by their challenges and neither should we feel overwhelmed.

I cannot tell you their stories but the youth working at these hearings also have amazing stories. We must keep a record of these so that we can all read them and understand how to improve the good work we are already doing and how to change what we do that is ineffective. I want to finish by thanking the courageous young people and families who have told their stories. You are an inspiration to us.

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