Gwendell is Cree woman who has been a foster caregiver for eight years. She shares the inspiring journey that led her to consider caregiving.
Gwendell is Cree, from Alberta, and moved out to Vancouver twenty-seven years ago when expecting her first child. Although she was a young mom-to-be, she was wise beyond her years and her story is inspiring. Gwendell had left behind a life that was unhealthy, in order to provide a better future for her unborn child. She explains it was hard at first, and temporarily lived in the Downtown Eastside.
Fast-forward to today, she has raised her biological daughter to be a strong, independent Indigenous woman who is hard-working and going to school in California. Gwendell works in the Downtown Eastside supporting vulnerable individuals in the community. In addition, she has been a VACFSS foster caregiver for the last 8 years. Gwendell describes that a lot of feelings come to heart when foster caring, as she previously worked in group homes with teenagers transitioning out of the care system. “It was hard to watch them because on their eighteenth birthday, they had to leave the group home. The system still needs a lot of work – I know, because I was in and out of care for the first twelve years of my life.” She explains the work that needs to be done is bridging the relationship between families and foster caregivers. “I feel like there is still lots of stigma around foster caregivers and that foster care is bad.” Gwendell goes to great lengths to connect her foster child with her biological family especially for important events, such as cultural events or birthdays.
And then, this opportunity was dropped on my lap, and thought – you know what, this is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Prior to foster caregiving, Gwendell was very career-driven, working long hours; but, something was missing, and she began thinking where she could give back. “And then, this opportunity was dropped on my lap, and thought – you know what, this is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Gwendell’s foster daughter came to her at just three weeks old. “She was put onto my lap, and I remember looking at her and thinking ‘She comes from a place where she doesn’t have a lot of support and family, and I don’t have a lot of that either’, and I think that was our biggest connection.” She recalls once going to Mexico for a week without her foster daughter and felt it was the hardest thing. They have been inseparable since! Still, foster caring has its challenges. Trying to explaining what it means to be in care is a really difficult conversation. But, Gwendell finds ways to maneuver those conversations into a positive experience, and remove the stigma of being a child in foster care. Her foster caregiving experience has been a transformative for her. Gwendell is fulfilled by seeing her foster daughter filled with love and also takes pride in her own accomplishments watching what she has done and knowing she can say, “I have done a good job.”
She would like to see more Indigenous foster caregivers because she believes they can play a critical role incorporating culture into the everyday lives of Indigenous children in care.
Gwendell has a call-to-action: She would like to see more Indigenous foster caregivers because she believes they can play a critical role incorporating culture into the everyday lives of Indigenous children in care. If you are a really good role model in the community, and you hear there is a child from your Nation in need of a caregiver, you should consider caregiving—reach out to see if you are eligible.”
There are many diverse First Nation communities in B.C. and connecting youth and children in care to the rich cultural traditions of their Nations can be difficult when they live outside of that community. VACFSS has an Inclusive Foster Care policy and resources to support foster caregivers to incorporate the child’s culture and their biological family into their life.
Learn about foster caregiving at Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS). Caregivers are needed and provided with training, support and the tools for success in joining in our “Circle of Caring”. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-216-7447 with questions.