When I was 15 years old, I learned a lot about myself. That year I learned about my limitations for the first time. While I was adapting to a new way of life in the foster care system, I spent a lot time creating a bunch of new identities. The identities varied from social circle to social circle, and I used them help cope with my environments.
When it came to the agency, I presented my self as a self-established, independent, hard-working youth with hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor to increase my chances of being put into a good home. It did not work. However, I still tried to uphold the image of strength and resilience to the agency, because it made me feel validated when they showered me with compliments.
Towards my friends I presented myself as the friendly ghost. We spoke and hung out during school hours, but I would always disappear at some point, sometimes for a couple of days, sometimes forever. I kept a close but distant relationship with everyone because of the expectations that all relationships in my life were temporary. When I was present, I would be everything my friends needed from me and more, but I always had a secrete that hid my true identity. Foster care was such a big part of my life, and if I did not share this one fact about myself, I was pretty much hiding a really big factor of my identity. This would include where I lived, who I lived with, and what I did outside school hours. I felt as is I had to hide all of this because it was easier than explaining it.
Finally, there was the identity I presented to my foster parents. Now who I was depended on who I lived with, and how safe I felt in the home. Overall, I was the straight A’s student-athlete that never made it to her first period class in the mornings. I was the vocal but emotionally distant kid. I was always that kid that took too long of showers or forgot to turn off the lights before I left type of kid. I was the emotionally unstable, stubborn, entitled, troubled, strong, independent, lazy, hard-working, quiet but loud, driven but ungrateful, loving but cold kid. I was the leader and the loner. The truth is a lot of these perceptions are true in their own ways.
Everyday people decide how to interact with one another. People establish boundaries based on setting and feelings of security. For youth in care, we are in a constant state of vulnerability because of our dependency on strangers. Our survival instincts are heightened due to the unpredictability of our circumstances, and the lack of control we have over our lives. It is difficult being able to comprehend the traumatic events happening around you and knowing there is nothing you can do about it. It is frightening when youth vocalize their abuse to the people responsible for protecting them and nothing changes. Instead, we are encouraged to be silent.
So, who really was I behind all these masks I presented to the world? The part no one got to see was the meltdowns I would have in my room alone. I felt unheard, guilty, frustrated, confused, but the one thing I hated the most was feeling powerless. I needed a voice, so I created one for others.
Project outsiders was created to be able to validate the experiences of other young people from care. It was created because the issues young people face while under the protection and supervision of the government is serious, and there is not enough accountability. We need to have a substantial voice in conversations about the child welfare system, and not have professionals in the sector speak for us. We see and experience things not captured on paper or reflected behind the numbers that represent our poverty. Thing are getting worse but there is an opportunity for change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Project Outsiders is attempting to exemplify what it means to work with youth on developing solutions to an ongoing problem. We start with youth voices and we end with a change in behaviour. We are driven by data to support our claims and we stand behind education being the source of individual confidence. Facts, surety, and knowledge is what give us our conviction, but our experience is what give us an edge.
By supporting this organization, you are saying we hear you and we are ready to stand with you. Listen to the Podcast because listening to the youth needs to be the first step. Share our material to Amplify our voice and be prepared for what will happen next. Change.