OACYC provincial conference inspires Child and Youth Care student Denise Borg

Program coordinator Heather Sago (left) with Denise Borg

Child and Youth Care student Denise Borg loves to learn, which is why she signed up to attend the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care (OACYC) provincial conference.

“I felt like this would be a huge learning opportunity,” said the third-semester student. “I’d be able to introduce myself to people in the field and hear their stories, and learn a lot more about what career I’ve put myself into.”

Denise is one of 230 participants who attended the sold-out conference this June, which welcomed local, provincial, national and international speakers to Peterborough. Entitled “Weaving Perspectives: Challenging Ourselves and Others Through Storytelling and Narratives,” the three-day conference featured keynote speakers, panel presentations and interactive workshops that explored ways to enhance relational care practice, methods and models, and encouraged attendees to continue working towards excellence.

“One workshop moved me that I began to think of ways that me, as a student, could begin to make a change,” said Denise on the Working with young people experiencing death, loss or bereavement workshop. In that workshop, the group discussed that while there is a program for helping youth deal with the grief of losing a loved one, there is no program in place for new foster children dealing with the grief of losing the life they had been living before being placed in foster care. “The next workshop I attended was about influencing change in your organization [Influencing organized culture], and those two workshops together had the wheels turning in my head.”

Denise explains that when children are taken to a foster home, there is a “tiptoe period” where they try to behave, be good, and always do everything right so they can stay and not be moved. It is a huge life change, with new rules, a new home, and new people.

“I want to help foster kids deal with that form of grief,” she said. “Having someone to be there to work with that young person, to ask them if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable in this situation or happier, or any extracurriculars they want to do, or if they’re missing something from their culture that they want… just having someone there to support you with this, that is huge.”

From the ages of 11 to 16, Denise lived in foster care in her home province of Nova Scotia, bouncing from foster home to foster home before running away to move back with her mom.

“There was no one I could trust or talk to about being in care,” said Denise. “You’re taken away from your family and put in a stranger’s house. You don’t feel safe surrounded by strangers.”

When Denise read the description of Fleming’s CYC program, she felt inspired. “I thought, this is the person I needed in care. I wanted that, and I want to be that person,” she said. “I lived with addictions for four years of my life. When I saw I could work with young people who live with addictions, I thought ‘If I could work with foster kids who live with addictions or out of care with addictions that would be essential.’ If I had someone that I could have gone to and discussed my issues with, I don’t think I would’ve fallen down the path that I did.”

Denise said she reflected a lot about her past at the OACYC provincial conference and her experiences in foster care. One powerful moment Denise experienced during the conference was listening to Ziigwanbinesii Charles sing at the sunrise ceremony, opening ceremony and closing ceremony.

“My heart filled with so much love that I cried. It was so beautiful to hear her sing,” said Denise. “When I was in Nova Scotia, I was in a Mi’kmaq studies course and Ziig sang one of the songs my teacher sang to me when I was in school. It touched a part of my soul.”

She said the conference experience has also been beneficial in discovering more ways she can help others.

“I don’t think that I would have made the connections I did or that I would’ve thought about the grief that foster kids go through when they’re apprehended– and that there’s nothing in place for that,” she said. “It’s been beneficial, and I’ll take everything I learned and put towards my practise and next two years of school.”

Denise said she is enjoying her time in the CYC program at Fleming College and attributes it for her personal growth over the past year. She said the program’s inclusion of self reflection has helped her to move forward.

“I’ve had a lot of heart-to-heart moments with some of my professors and that makes the program that much more enticing,” said Denise. “You can tell Heather, Aurora, Cherylanne and Patricia really care, they are willing to meet you where you’re at– all of the teachers, really. My legislation teacher is the woman I inspire to be; Lisa Fenn inspires, has so much passion, she is my role model.”

Denise is excited to continue learning and developing skills for her career path. She said the OACYC conference confirmed that this is the right fit for her.

“Hearing other people’s outlooks and experiences put me in a spot where I need to do this. This is who I am meant to be,” she explained. “I feel it in my heart that I’m in the right place.”

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.”

CYC graduate and Valedictorian Brittany Parsons hopes to empower others with learning disabilities

brittany-parsonsWhen Brittany Parsons was told she has mild dyslexia and short term memory in grade 5, it was labelled as a “hurdle” and a “roadblock.” She grew up being pulled out of classes and made to feel different from her friends.

“It was really hard growing up,” said Brittany. “I tried to compensate and seem like I didn’t have one. I worked so hard to want to be like everyone else. But in high school it was challenging, because my friends were all in academic and I knew I had to do applied.”

In 2011, Brittany began working at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul overnight summer camp and realized her interest in working with young people as a career. After feeling inspired by an amazing Child and Youth Care practitioner at her school, Brittany decided this career was a natural fit for her.

She attended Fleming College’s Open House event and spoke with Child and Youth Care (CYC) graduate Rachel Charles about the CYC program, which prepares individuals to provide care and treatment for children or adolescents experiencing a range of social, emotional, behavioral, or learning challenges. 30 minutes into their conversation, Brittany decided Fleming College was the right college for her and later moved from Toronto to Peterborough for her post-secondary education.

“With a learning disability in your younger years you are pulled out of classes and they make you feel different. Here at Fleming, you aren’t meant to feel different, they just give you the tools to help you,” said Brittany. “Even the word ‘accommodations’ doesn’t sound bad, as opposed to when I was younger in school and it was called a ‘hurdle’ or a ‘roadblock.’ It’s a nice way of doing things here.”

Brittany used academic accommodations and counselling services during her three years at Fleming.

“Having a career in a helping profession, I feel like it’s unrealistic for me to be perfect,” said Brittany. “I used it knowing I was almost at rock bottom, but you can feel great and still go to counselling. It’s a type of mentorship that is a healthy relationship, where you can share with no judgement.”

Brittany describes her time at Fleming as one of “self-discovery,” where she realized her purpose, values and beliefs. She enjoyed her experience and said her peers felt like family and her faculty felt like great mentors.

Through the program, Brittany said she “learned to learn my learning disability,” explaining that she learned how to advocate for herself and discover what she needs to be “unstoppable.”

“Once you learn what you need, what people once saw as a disadvantage becomes your biggest asset,” she said.

Brittany graduated this month and won the top school award, the School of Justice & Community Development Academic Achievement Award. This award is presented to a graduate for academic achievement and significant contribution to the college community. As such, Brittany was selected to deliver the Valedictorian address at convocation.

When she stood at the podium on June 6 at the School of Justice & Community Development ceremony, Brittany introduced herself by saying, “My name is Brittany Parsons. I am a first generation student, an individual who’s proud to say lives with a learning disability, and today I will graduate from the Child and Youth Care program.”

Three years ago Brittany said she would not have felt comfortable sharing her learning disability with a crowd of people, but since coming to Fleming she feels empowered to share her story.

“Some say having a learning disability is embarrassing. When you openly say it, it becomes empowering and no longer a roadblock,” she explained. “There’s always someone in your life that’ll say you can’t do something and with a learning disability you hear that 10 times more often. Once you are accepting and ready to love yourself with your learning disability, you will learn your purpose and can do whatever it is.”

Brittany is now working for York Region District School Board as a Child and Youth Care practitioner. She plans on completing a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care and eventually earn her PhD.

“This dream would not have been possible three years ago. I have been blessed with amazing faculty,” she said. “The thought of university is scary, but I learned that if I start early and advocate for myself, it will be possible. I’m applying this fall and will do it part-time online while I continue to work in my field, Later, once it can be a smooth transition, I will transition to full-time studies because I know I can do it!”

Self-discovery and being silly is what makes the Child and Youth Care program special for Valedictorian Brittany Parsons

brittany-parsons-blogBrittany Parsons’ favourite thing about the Child and Youth Care program is that she gets to be silly while learning.

“I’ve had many spectacular moments in the program over the three years. Our program is a lot of games and activities,” said Brittany, who opted for a silly pose for her Fleming College graduation photo. “I decided to pick a silly one to embrace how silly Child and Youth Care practitioners can be when working with young people. Can’t be serious all of the time.”

Brittany has known she wanted to spend her career working with young people since 2011, when she began working at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul overnight summer camp.

“It was there I discovered my love for working with young people. Not only did I love working with young people, I loved being in the present moment with them,” she explained. “Also, I reflect back to my years as a young person and I remember how amazing my CYC practitioner was in my school; she was always there and with a positive attitude—things I aspired to be. The CYC program was a natural fit for me.”

Brittany moved from Toronto to Peterborough to take the Child and Youth Care program at Fleming College, which prepares individuals to provide care and treatment for children or adolescents experiencing a range of social, emotional, behavioral, or learning challenges.

“Coming from Toronto, it was an adjustment to live in a smaller town. The Fleming College community welcomed me with open arms from the moment I went to the Open House as a prospective student. I felt such amazing vibes and truly felt like I belonged,” she said. “One of my favourite things was hanging out within the College because of the powerful energy amongst the halls from staff and students. I also say as I drive up to Fleming, it’s like another world surrounded by trees.”

Through the Child and Youth Care program, Brittany said she developed counselling skills and professionalism, learned how to share space, advocate for herself and others, and more. She completed her program placement at the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care, and was the first placement student they ever had.

“This experience allowed me to focus on my passion for legislation and writing,” said Brittany about her placement. “In my final semester, I published two articles and that moment was an emotional one because it was a dream come true, but also the beginning of something wonderful.”

Brittany “100%” recommends this program to others because it offers faculty who are currently in the field, networking opportunities, great course content, and the opportunity for students to learn more about themselves as individuals.

“My experience was one of self-discovery, which I never imagined happening. I uncovered my purpose, values and beliefs,” she said. “There were moments where I felt like I couldn’t do it, especially when I lost my grandmother in my final year, but my peers and I became so close (like a family) that they became my support system early on and really encouraged me. My faculty were more than professors, they were mentors. Having such a small group of students, we were able to make real connections; that was something I knew I couldn’t get in the city, I wanted to be more than a student number.”

On Wednesday, June 6, Brittany will join her peers and faculty at the School of Justice & Community Development convocation ceremony, and will serve as Valedictorian. “My desire is that my fellow graduates, even supporters in the room, leave wanting to find ways to learn more; to never forget the connection and roots they have at Fleming; finally, to go with the motion of life as this is the first step to the most rewarding careers.”

After graduation, Brittany will work as a Child and Youth Care practitioner for York Region District School Board. She is also part of a conference committee through the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care to create the Provincial Conference being held at Fleming College’s Sutherland Campus next year. Her future goal is to complete her Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care through professional development opportunities to continue growing as a professional.

“My designation is not a title to me, it is who I am,” she said.

Child and Youth Care coordinator brings the real world to her classroom

cyc-coordinatorChild and Youth Care program coordinator Heather Sago brings the real world to her classroom. With more than 20 years of experience across Canada (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Lethbridge, and Peterborough), Heather brings a national perspective on practice with children, youth and families.

Child and Youth Care (CYC) workers are an integral part of a treatment team and are involved in all facets of care. Fleming’s CYC program features leading-edge curriculum, including certification in the Therapeutic Use of Daily Life Events and over 1200 hours of field practicum experience.

“CYC to me is not just a job, but part of who I am,” said Heather, who has a BA in criminology from the University of Manitoba, a BSW from the University of Calgary, and an MSW with a child and youth care specialization from McGill University. “I hope to help students discover where their passions lie and how to integrate this into their personhood.”

Heather currently sits on the At Risk Youth Justice Committee & Judge’s Roundtable, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies Research Evaluation Advisory Committee, the Development & Implementation Committee for the Child and Youth Care Educational Accreditation Board of Canada, and international working groups.

“While I may have lots to share, I also can’t wait to see what the students will teach me. Everyone has something to bring to the table and every moment is a teachable one!” said Heather.

She is excited to bring the Indigenous Perspectives Designation to the table this year. This designation is optional for CYC students, and those who choose to access it will have a strong foundational basis in Indigenous Studies, which is marketable in the employment sector.

If you would like to provide opportunities for change in the lives of children and youth, Fleming is currently accepting applications for the January 2017 intake of the CYC program.