Over the course of my practicum at the Children’s Aid society it has been increasingly clear that youth in care have a very different educational experience than most other students. This is not necessarily the case in every scenario; however, it is not uncommon for youth in care to struggle with a sense of belonging or feeling like part of community, face barriers to accessing supports and experience challenges around navigating the various educational pathways they are faced with over the course of their time in the public education system. This has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and has disproportionately affected many facets of the population, including youth in care who identify as racialized. As a developing educator digging deeper into issues surrounding barriers to education faced by youth in care, has provided me with more fulsome understanding of the possible challenges the students I work with face, allowing me to be better prepared to support them as they work towards completing their education, because its not just about learning. Implementing a trauma informed approach and using empathy are two strategies that I have embraced. This experience has also allowed me to reflect on the importance of thinking outside of the box and the teacher as advocate. There is immense power in developing strong relationships and embracing those little wins. Working on this research project has forced me to figure out how I want to address systemic, and often times invisible barriers for youth who struggle in school due to a variety of different challenges.
As part of my Photovoice Project, I used a photo of a child in a large body of water as a symbolic representation of the educational and social gaps that youth in care can face. The reflection circled around loneliness, uncertainty, and feelings of being overwhelmed; all barriers to learning and all three can lead to feelings of unachievable goals potentially resulting in disengagement or giving up and dropping out. If we could see outside the frame of the photo, then maybe we can imagine all of the supports we, as educators, can offer to these youth, we can be their lifeline. This is not something we do alone though. Educational supports must be collaborative when it comes to vulnerable youth. They need to have access to rap around support from not only educators but administrators, community partners and in this case foster families, group homes and child and youth workers so that they can develop the skills they need as they graduate and face even more uncertainty as they age out of the system.