Former youth in care Jessy Neal took part in the creation of the first BC Child and Youth in Care Week (BCCYICW) in 2010. A decade later, she is still working to change the way we view people who have spent time in foster care.
Her work has helped emphasize the importance of addressing the barriers and stigma that come from being in the care system. Running this year from June 1-7, 2020, BCCYICW is shining a light on the achievements of former youth in care.
Supported by the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks (FBCYICN), Neal joined a delegation of youth who travelled to Ottawa in 2010 to report on key issues affecting youth across B.C., including the social stigma many face in their daily lives. Out of this goal, the first BCCYICW was born.
“We wanted to change the portrayal and perception of those who have been through the care system, to celebrate their resilience and achievements despite the trauma and barriers they have faced,” said Neal.
Her involvement with FBCYICN stretches back to her early teens, when a foster parent drove her to one of its conferences. From that first meeting, she went on to become a youth member and a volunteer on the board. She is grateful for all the federation does to help youth reach their potential.
“The federation is like the positive family that I never had, a place where there is an understanding of who I am as a person,” she said. “It really helped to fuel the fire of advocacy that I felt, and drove me to new goals and expectations for myself that I didn’t realize I could have.”
This new-found support led her to complete her schooling and pursue a degree in social work. She is now working at FBCYICN to create culturally safe connections with Indigenous youth and co-ordinate programming in 13 communities across B.C., giving many youth the same access and opportunities through the federation that she had.
She is also helping create more virtual programming so youth in rural and remote areas of the province have somewhere to turn. This has been particularly timely as people reach out for mental health supports in the wake of COVID-19.
“It’s great to be a support to young people in a virtual environment through the current pandemic, though it doesn’t replace face-to-face contact,” said Neal.
Reflecting on a decade of BCCYICW, she has seen it grow since it was first proclaimed by the provincial government. Now, the week brings together youth-serving organizations from across B.C. to plan and celebrate children and youth in care in their communities. Neal hopes the coming years further transform perceptions of youth in care, not just by the media and community, but in the way young people see themselves.
“I’m happy to be celebrating ten years of awareness of all the good things that youth can achieve,” she said. “From graduation to the first job, to being the best player on your sports team, everybody has things that are worth celebrating.”
For those who are struggling, she says, “Reach out when you feel alone – there are lots of people who will support you. Don’t think you’re not worthy. You are the future.”
For more information about the Federation of BC Child and Youth in Care Networks, visit: www.fbcyicn.ca/