After foster care, what next? Montreal organization looks to fill gap in system

C.A.R.E Jeunesse, which offers support for young adults after they leave the provincial foster care system, is looking to raise money to sustain the organization for another year.

C.A.R.E Jeunesse provides support for youth ageing out of foster and group homes

C.A.R.E Jeunesse offers programs and support for young adults no longer eligible for social services offered to children in foster care. (Submitted by Amanda Keller)

Amanda Keller knows what it's like to age out of the public system after spending years living in group and foster homes.

Growing up in the U.S., Keller spent time in what she describes as "a hybrid between an orphanage and a mental health hospital." 

Keller's Montreal-based non-profit group, C.A.R.E Jeunesse, estimates that about 1,200 youth age out foster care in Quebec each year.

At 18 and no longer eligible for many social services, Keller says there is a lack of support for youth during this transition.

"A lot of kids that turn 18 in the system don't have their high school diploma," she said. 

"Most are ageing out without a lot of financial resources."

Self-care fundraiser

C.A.R.E Jeunesse offers programs and support for young adults during this period. This weekend, Keller hopes to raise enough money at a "self-care fair" to sustain the group for another year.

The event, happening Sunday at Concordia University's Loyola Chapel from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature a cover charge of $15 at the door ($5 for students) and offer a wide array of "self-care" activities like yoga and massage.

Amanda Keller, pictured with her husband and daughter, founded C.A.R.E Jeunesse in Montreal to help youth facing the same struggles she did as a teenager. (Submitted by Amanda Keller)

Keller founded the group in July 2015 and hopes to one day turn it into a permanent centre with satellite units across the province. Her team of five volunteers is made up of former "alumni of care," who personally understand and have experienced the struggles foster care teens face.

"For children who aren't loved, who aren't encouraged, who aren't even told what they're good at or not good at or given healthy critiques—how can we expect them to become productive members of society?"

Youth 'barely scraping by'

Keller told CBC Montreal's Homerun that it can be just as difficult for young adults with family to stay afloat, as for those without. 

"For a lot of youth that have parents similar to mine, if their parents are still alive they are going to come ask them for money, show up at their door homeless," she said.

It's a problem that Keller says she often sees.

"They are barely scraping by taking care of themselves, trying to go to school, trying to maintain a job and then their parents are showing up saying, 'I don't have anywhere to go,'" said Keller. 

"You can't imagine how hard it is to turn away a parent if they're saying that to you."

Keller says that during her own time living in group homes, she was degraded and made to feel hopeless.

"They said when we all aged out we'd have to work full-time at McDonald's, they said we were all going to be homeless," she recalled.

"They told us that we weren't really capable of much and we really absorbed that. But at C.A.R.E Jeunesse we do the opposite."

With files from CBC Montreal's Homerun