Nunavummiut take part in Youth Speak Out to improve adoption, foster services
'We are just trying to prevent what happened to us to future generations and children,' says participant
Nunavummiut who were adopted or spent time in foster care took part in a workshop last week to discuss ways to improve the system.
About a dozen Nunavut residents participated in the two-day Youth Speak Out workshop in Iqaluit, put on by the Adoption Council of Canada. The program gives children who "aged out" of the system an opportunity to speak out and advocate for change.
The program teaches a variety of skills, designed to give young people the ability to speak up for themselves and influence policy.
"We go through different things, such as what advocacy is, how to be an advocate, how to speak to the media," said Tabitha McDonald, the project coordinator for Youth Speak Out.
"We want them to be able to speak out on panels. We want them to be able to use artwork as advocacy. We want them to be confident and competent in the things that they are doing."
Teresa Qiatsuq, 18, is originally from Cape Dorset, but now lives in Iqaluit. She says as a child she lived with many foster families, some of which were not safe environments.
"It is important for our voices to be heard because we are the ones who experienced this," she said. "We are just trying to prevent what happened to us to future generations and children."
As of September 2015, about 360 youth and children were under the care of Nunavut's Family Services department, which included about 200 in foster care.
'Who is your permanent family'
Youth Speak Out's core message pushes for a greater permanency for children in the foster care system — that's something 19-year-old Rachel Michael connects with on a personal level, after spending much of her childhood in foster care.
"As I was aging out, no one had the conversation of where I am going to live after, if I am going to stay with the foster family, if I will have a place to live at all," Michael said.
"To prevent homelessness and loneliness and stress of aging out, there should be a conversation about where are you going to go and who is your permanent family."
Michael calls the Youth Speak Out program inspiring and empowering, saying she learned skills she will use for years to come.