Without doubt, Lynn has forever changed the trajectory of baby Shea’s life by stepping in to care for him and keeping him out of foster care. Her commitment is to stop the intergenerational trauma in her family.
May 27, 2021, gave Lynn new purpose. This was the day Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced it had located an unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. “The discovery of the children impacted me deeply. I knew I had to do something,” said Lynn (name is changed for privacy). Four months later, Lynn came to be an Out of Care Options (OOCO) caregiver to her 7-month-old cousin, Shea (name is changed for privacy).
OOCO is an alternative to children coming into care by supporting parents to place the child in the care of their extended family or Indigenous community. Even when family support cases are more complex than ever, the number of children in care at VACFSS has steadily decreased from 133 children in 2012, to 117 children in 2020, due to restorative policies such as the OOCO Program.
‘Ending the cycle’
Lynn, who is from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek), has been witness to the impacts of intergenerational trauma. We lost my cousin, Mahlee [name is changed for privacy] to substance use at a young age, she says. “Mahlee and I grew up together, we were inseparable. When my aunty approached me about caring for Mahlee’s baby, Shea, I could not stand to see another cycle begin.”
Lynn who is trained in early childhood education and has also worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, considers herself ‘privileged’ to be in a position where she can care for Shea. “I am in a good place now, but life was not always perfect. I experienced abusive relationships and family court battles. I was trying to survive myself,” said Lynn.
Getting ready for baby Shea
The first thing Lynn did was get her family together. Her husband, mother, four children, and granddaughter were all part of the decision – everyone was supportive and on board. She also resigned from a managerial position for a less demanding job to devote more time to Shea.
Lynn became friends with Sue, a foster caregiver with VACFSS who specializes in caring for babies, and who cared for Shea prior to Lynn’s involvement. Lynn and Sue have worked inclusively to make the transition smooth for Shea. “In the beginning, I would call Sue often with questions, like his nap schedule, what he liked and disliked – things that I could not fully experience during our visits. Sue is amazing, and always ready to help,” explains Lynn.
When asked what is challenging, she says caring for Shea is different than when she had her own children. “Being part of the “system” makes me feel more accountable. If he [Shea] becomes ill, I worry whether it may reflect negatively on me.”
The legacy for future generations
Lynn and her family are active in their community. Shea’s grandma has already bought him his first ribbon shirt. He has moccasins. Lynn picked up language CD’s and books to ensure Shea grows up knowing his culture and where he comes from, and most importantly, to be proud of his heritage.
“My grandfather moved our family to Williams Lake because he believed our culture was the problem. We did not grow up with my culture. I want a different future for my kids and Shea,” Lynn said tearfully.
As such, Lynn’s goal is to leave a carbon footprint.
“I want my own children to see that you can make a difference for the better. Our children need us. They need Indigenous moms and dads, grandmas, grandpas, and uncles, to step up. They need their culture more than ever before.”
“We thought Shea needed us, but we need him. He has brought more joy into our lives than I can explain. I want him to know he is loved, and he will not go through this alone.”
To learn more about the OOCO Program, please click here.
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