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A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

My Journey from Foster Care to Social Work

Jordanna Southall, BSW

Reprinted from "Young People: Transitions" issue of Visions Journal, 2015, 11 (2), pp. 17-19

What got me through foster care and has led to my success was having a strong support system through thick and thin. I developed an amazing relationship with my foster parents, who fostered me for 14 years—until my 19th birthday, when I aged out of care. They have loved me and treated me as their own.

My foster siblings were amazing supports as well; we went through a lot together and became very close. This included my half-brother, who was also placed in care with me. Having biological family as part of my life has also been extremely important. And I have a best friend who has stuck out our friendship ever since kindergarten, and whose family treated me like a second daughter.

Having all these people in my life gave me stability. I think a lot of people expect poor outcomes for foster children because of their difficult backgrounds. With security, support and love, however, we can be successful.

Foster care—An ongoing transition

My mom struggled with substance abuse, and my brother and I witnessed violence between her and her partners. This became so severe that she was no longer able to safely care for us. Our biological grandmother tried to look after us, but wasn't able to. This is when we entered foster care together permanently. I was four; my brother was six.

Being so young at the time, I don't remember the transition very well. We were in another foster home for a short time before this one. But we'd had ongoing respite care with the foster home that we moved into full-time, which made it less difficult because we already had a relationship with our foster parents.

There was a certain amount of chaos that came with living in a foster home. A lot of children came and went, and I saw first-hand how difficult it was for each kid. The children have to build relationships with their 'new' family while, often, grieving the loss of the family they've had to leave. They come with different, and often traumatic, experiences and expectations. We were blessed, however, with skilled foster parents who taught us how to function as a healthy family despite our challenges and our sometimes skewed vision of what "healthy" meant.

I had a wonderful childhood growing up on my foster parents' farm. I was involved in the local 4-H club for many years, training chickens and sheep and competing across the province with other same-aged children and youth. I also enjoyed highland dance and soccer.

Tough teen years and terrific social work support

Transitioning into being a teenager was hard for me, and during my first few years at high school I had problems with friendships, relationships and authority. I started to bully a couple of my female friends and was caught drinking at school; was suspended twice in one month in grade 10. I felt a lot of anger and resentment and found it very difficult to express myself. I think the anger was me processing my circumstances and struggling with self-discovery.

Also, when I became a teenager, I got a new social worker. Having had many social workers, all of whom asked for the intimate details of my life, I really didn't want to open up again.

This particular social worker, however, made it easy to warm up to her. She was funny, followed through on her commitments and quickly became a committed member of my support team and an important part of my life.

Social workers responsible for the guardianship of children in foster care make plans with each child that not only meet the child's daily needs, but also help him or her to achieve personal goals.

The continuing support of my social worker—and my family and friends—helped me get through this challenging time and make positive changes in my life. In grade 12, feeling inspired by my social worker, I decided I wanted to attend university and to pursue a bachelor of social work degree. I began home-schooling courses to make up for work I had refused to do in prior years and saved money from my part-time job at the Coombs Country Market. I also began opening up to people in my life I had cut off—my friends, foster parents and social worker.

'She was just 17'—And off to university

My social worker's support, and the day-to-day guidance, support and reassurance from my foster parents, allowed me to move from Qualicum Beach to attend the University of Victoria (UVic) at just 17. My social worker helped me plan finances for schooling. She also shared her experiences of attending university, raising important points I hadn't considered, such as student loans, course registration and available housing. This helped me make good decisions. My foster parents provided day-to-day support in completing some of these applications and generally preparing me for this next step in my life.

This transition was difficult for me. In my first year of university I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which made me physically sick. I believe it was related to the abrupt transition of being away from my family, friends and the familiarity of being in a small town.

But the relationship I have with my foster family is one that will last a lifetime—I was made aware of this as I left for university. They moved me to Victoria, gave me a huge hug and reminded me that I still had a family to go home to on weekends and holidays whenever I wanted. This was a huge relief and made it all easier.

I lived in residence on campus with a lot of other first-year university students and easily made friends. I loved living on campus, because there was always a lot to do. UVic hosted a ton of events, including small concerts and fundraisers. I lived in residence for my first two years, then moved into a rental house with two close friends.

By the end of the three years at UVic, the possibility of becoming an MCFD social worker became much more real. And my anxiety had resolved itself&mash;I was happy, comfortable and stable, with lots of friends and family support.

These positive changes helped me create a mindset that paved my way for success. I came to realize that although I couldn't control certain things in life, I could control how I responded to those things and who I was going to lean on when those things became too much to bear. I always had somebody to lean on, and no matter how much I pushed my supports away, it never changed how much they cared about me.

I decided I wasn't going to just survive; I was going to thrive! I used my experience as a strength.

'It felt like fate...'

After three years at UVic, I transferred to Vancouver Island University (VIU) for a new two-year online program toward a bachelor's degree in social work. I moved back into my foster parents' home for the first year—I felt really blessed to have a home to return to. I later moved back Victoria to live with my boyfriend, who I met in my second year of university.

Once I was accepted into the BSW program, I found out about a new pilot program, the Youth in Care Tuition Waiver Program (see sidebar). My former social worker (I was now aged out of youth care) told me about the program, even emailing me the paperwork. I applied immediately and was very excited when I found out that VIU would pay all my tuition and offer me bursaries for other expenses such as textbooks. It felt like fate.

By the time I received the tuition waiver assistance, I had already been in university for three years and hadn't worked during this time, so finances were really tight. Thanks to the tuition waiver program, I saved over $20,000 in my last two years of university. This allowed me to live independently and to buy a car so I could get to and from my job and my practicum in my fifth and final year of university. I was able to complete my BSW with minimal student loans. And it gave me that extra bit of motivation to make it to the end of my degree.

And now?

This amazing journey continues as I have now have a position with the Ministry of Children and Family Development as an intake/assessment social worker in Campbell River. This is only a one-hour drive from 'home.'

I couldn't have done it without a team of supportive people cheering me on. As well as my best friend and foster family, I had the continuing support of my loving partner and my biological family, including my brother, grandma, aunts, uncles and my mom, who has now come into my life again. Knowing that others wanted to see me succeed, made me feel like my future was worth investing in.

About the author

Jordanna is a former youth in care and a recent graduate from Vancouver Island University's Bachelor of Social Work program. She is beginning her career in social work with the Ministry of Children and Family Development

stock photo of a young person dressed for graduation

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