A childhood in foster care inspires Andrew Chartren to make a difference through Child and Youth Care

Andrew Chartren did not have an idyllic childhood.

He remembers being placed in the foster care system, spending time with his father under supervised visits, feeling incredibly angry and acting out in school, and being grateful he and his brother were able to stay together.

“One time, my dad lost it. He yelled at the worker, ‘I don’t need you here, babysitting me with my kids!’” said Andrew, recalling an interaction between his dad – who had supervised visits for a period of time (and later unsupervised) – and a Child and Youth Care Worker. “It’s an invasion of privacy in a sense.”

Because of Andrew’s personal journey, he chose to become a Child and Youth Care Practitioner to support other families through this experience.

“I go up to the parent and I let them know ‘I’m here to support you. I’m not here to look over your shoulder, I am just here to keep you safe.’ I talk to them, I crack jokes, I make them comfortable,” said Andrew. “I’m more involved as a Child and Youth Care Worker than most of the service providers I had when I was in care. There is no awkward silence and I make it very relational, because the parents might think I’m judging them and I am not.”

Andrew, who was born premature with Cerebral palsy and spent months in care at Mount Sinai Hospital, was placed into foster care when he was eight years old. Andrew and his brother were able to stay together through foster care, which Andrew explains is uncommon and something he feels incredibly grateful for.

Although Andrew was obedient to his foster care family and behaved well at home in Warsaw, he felt a sizzling anger inside. “At home, I was good and listened, but at school I was bad. I had anger problems,” he explained. “I used to get made fun of, so I’d retaliate in anger; and sometimes I would just smack people around because I wanted to. People would ask my brother why I was so angry.”

As a speaker in the Children’s Aid Societies’ PRIDE program, Andrew says he tells new foster parents to expect their limits to be tested. He encourages foster parents to sit down with the child and reassure them, “I’m here for you. I know things are hard.”

Andrew does this because he strongly believes that a great support system can make a huge impact.

“Your support team will determine your progress,” he said. “If you have a great support team who want the best for you, you will do better.”

When Andrew left foster care at 18 years old, he went through a rebellious stage, but his support team got him through it. He credits his youth group at church for never giving up on him, and always speaking highly of him and saying kind words.

“Those were words of healing to me,” he shared. “Because of that, I was able to bounce back. I was able to look at myself and say, ‘Andrew, wake up man!’”

He signed up for Academic Upgrading to earn the English and math credits needed for post-secondary school and completed them when he was 23 years old. With a goal to work in the foster care system one day, Andrew enrolled in Fleming’s Child and Youth Care (CYC) program because the curriculum covers this field.

“I really like that the teachers came in with their own experience in the field. That was really encouraging to me,” he said. “These aren’t teachers who just read and talk about it and don’t actually have the work experience; these are teachers with real work experience in it. Everything my teachers said was accurate and I know it because I went through it.”

One learning experience that reminded Andrew of his past was preparing for supervised visits as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner. “I had to go through that and this class made me see that this program is real,” he said. “It is emotional, spiritual, intellectual… it is real to a person.”

Andrew recommends the CYC program to others, especially the Therapeutic Interventions courses that prepare students to help young persons work through real life issues, facilitating opportunities for change (“those three courses were a highlight. I’d recommend CYC just for that”).

Through the program, Andrew has developed notetaking and communication skills, learned theories from the field, and gained knowledge.

“I came in at an advantage with a lot of knowledge of the system already, but I feel like this program really added to my tool belt and is super beneficial. They did a good job,” he said.

Andrew graduated from Fleming College this June and is already employed full-time as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner working in the care system. His career goal is to work in family interventions to help reunite families, instead of placing children in care.

Andrew is still very close with his brother, visits his mom regularly, and said that his father passed away six years ago (but they were in contact before that). Andrew is happily married, a certified minister who leads a youth group, and his goal in life is to free others from their hurt.

“This career is important. We need CYCs in the foster system because children and youth need help and support,” said Andrew. “I want more people in this field. It’s super rewarding; it’s about caring for the lives of others and being selfless. It’s not about a pay cheque, it’s about making a difference.”