For most of us, being on YAC is something we deeply value and we are very committed to continuing to grow in depth and scope.
In 2020, the VACFSS Youth Advisory Council (YAC) will celebrate 10 years since it was created. For two of our members, they will have been on the committee since the beginning. It has been quite a journey and we are constantly amazed at what we have achieved and how far we have come.
“For some of us, YAC has been the one solid community that we have had as we aged out of care and experienced diversity and change in our lives.”
Through the years, we have informally talked about our goals, prioritizing and visioning, but this summer was the first time we had formalized the discussions.
It required a lot of hard work, dialogue and input from each of us. It was a great learning experience and a chance to formalize our work and move things forward. We are proud of the outcome and hope you like it too.
Our first step was formalizing a mission and vision statement. We reviewed VACFSS’s overall statements and wanted to ensure we were in line with them. For us, young people aging into community in a good way was critical, as well as every young person having leadership skills and a vision for their future.
We came up with the following:
Every young Indigenous leader journeys successfully from care into community.
YAC ensures that youth have a voice in their own care and the whole care system that is designed to represent them.
We also agreed to four key objectives for YAC:
- To ensure that VACFSS holds a youth voice
- To advocate for change in a larger system
- To assist in developing and practicing leadership skills amongst committee members
- To assist social workers, programs, and agency to improve their social work practice.
From here, we focused on what projects we would like to focus on our energy on for the next two years and brainstormed until we just couldn’t anymore. From there we went through a process of prioritizing ensuring collaboration and everyone’s voice being heard.
We developed 4 key priority areas with sub-projects under each one:
The first was:
- Restructure YAC to better support our growing leadership
Here, we had things that are easy to implement and will formalize our work better. Some example include ensuring our minutes and the agenda of the next meeting are circulated to all members prior to the meeting. Moving our meetings into a boardroom space, and using the concept of a recognized object such as a feather or talking stick to ensure that we are all paying attention to the young person speaking and there is no cross-talk.
“We also decided to remove the upper age limit on YAC. This reflects our wish of the care system that young people would be allowed to age out of care when they are ready instead of being forced out by an arbitrary number.”
This also included implementing the position of HR member in order to take greater responsibility of YAC’s rules. We have set up a mentorship opportunity for one of our youth with one of VACFSS’s HR Advisors to support us with recruitment, retention, coaching and mentorship. We are super excited about this opportunity!
We also decided to remove the upper age limit on YAC. This reflects our wish of the care system – that young people would be allowed to age out of care when they are ready instead of being forced out by an arbitrary number. It acknowledges the valuable experience and expertise of the more senior YAC members and supports the development of mentoring within and by YAC.
2. Focus on mentorship for children/youth in care
Our second priority was a focus on mentorship. This includes mentorship for the new members of YAC by the senior members and to other youth in care by YAC members as well. We are all very passionate about supporting the younger youth in VACFSS’s care and are aware that youth require an informal community to be part of their lives to be successful. We wish to be part of that community and work on mentoring younger youth.
3. Preparing youth by youth to age out of care
We have a goal of developing ‘real talks’ for youth aging our of care delivered by youth who have succeeded in the transition. It is a very scary and confusing process and we acknowledge that messages might come easier from youth who have experienced it rather than adults.
4. YAC scholarship foundation
Although tuition waivers and the AYA program do a lot to support young people who have aged out, they do not cover everything. We wish to fundraise money that can support youth after they turn 19 for things that other programs won’t cover. For example, a new laptop or repair once one breaks, a damage deposit, funds for extra clothing like a winter jacket for the first year after aging out, etc.
Other priorities we are hoping to work on include having a YAC regalia, actively supporting indigenous youth leadership moments in the community, more interaction with other program areas of VACFSS, a higher profile in the agency, and continuing to deepen our cultural knowledge and growth.
We hope to have a board report every year to assist us in being accountable to this work, monitoring progress towards our goals and to further support our strong sense of community and family with each other and with the agency.
The things we learned about developing a strategic plan were that it can be messy, confusing, fun and dynamic, much like YAC itself! We also learned the importance of formalizing our thinking and our work, and we feel stronger with a solid foundation under us, and to guide our work in the next two years.
If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for us we would love to hear from you! We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
by the Youth Advisory Council