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Raised in foster care, N.W.T. woman plans to return home a social worker

After growing up in foster care, a Yellowknife woman is using the experience as motivation to become a social worker in the system she grew up in.

In the third year of her degree, Starr Leathem wants to help short-staffed child and family services division

N.W.T. resident Starr Leathem is in the third year of a psychology degree from Concordia University in Edmonton. She said her plan is to finish school and return home and start her career as a social worker. (Submitted by Starr Leathem)

After growing up in foster care, a Yellowknife woman is using the experience as motivation to become a social worker in the system she grew up in.

Starr Leathem, 20, is attending school at Concordia University in Edmonton, in the third year of a four year psychology degree. While in the N.W.T. she lived in two foster homes — one early in her life, until she was seven years old, and another beginning at age nine, after living with her parents for about a year.

Growing up in the foster care system, Leathem said she sometimes was embarrassed to tell people about her living situation, what she describes as "normal things to feel when you're young."

However, Leathem that as she ages, she's realized she is "one of the lucky ones."

"Because of social services and child protection I got a lot of opportunities I might not have gotten if I wasn't put into the system," she said. "I graduated high school, I'm in university now and some people can't really say the same."  

She added that some people deal with "a lot more different things than she did.

"I was never like abused as a child or things like that. I just lived in an unstable home. I wasn't sexually abused... but a lot of other people in the foster care system are [abused] and that's why they go into the foster care system," she said.

Working for the system

Though Leathem is still completing her degree, she was able to spend the summer in Yellowknife as a respite worker, working with a short-staffed child and family services division.    

With the unique perspective of someone who's seen both sides of the system, Leathem says that she is developing an understanding of the challenges faced by social workers in the territory.

"In Yellowknife, they are really short on foster homes so there's a lot of kids in some foster homes," she said. "They are just really short-handed [for help].

"I went in and was just that helping hand, taking kids to the park, or just spending time with them that day, or for kids that are more like [not problematic] but just needed that extra attention."  

Leathem said that her experience as a respite worker has changed her perspective.

"I was just in my own little bubble of: 'yeah, I'm in foster care,' but when I found out how many other kids are in foster care and why they are in foster care... that made me realize why I think I am really lucky."

Leathem says that she is planning to return to Yellowknife once she has completed her degree, in the hopes of continuing her work with children in foster care.