Written by Ingrid Palmer

As children and youth in care our voices have often been misunderstood, not believed, overpowered, ignored, misinterpreted, redefined, amputated, rendered null and void.

When you have lived a life of primarily being impacted upon and have had limited experiences of being impactful, an authenticated, empowered voice is an incredible transformative tool that dramatically reroutes the trajectory of a life headed toward a statistical dead end.

I still remember when my own voice was first legitimized.

I was at my fourth and what would turn out to be my last placement – a girls’ group home in Parkdale. At this time my voice was an unrestrained raging bellow that simultaneously roared and whimpered. I was determined to never again have my fate determined by others’ voices while mine was remaining muted. Hence the roar!

I yearned for that elusive concrete ability to make my life my own and thereby guarantee that I would never be returned to that vulnerable little girl who only bore the collisions of others’ words and actions. Hence the whimper!

The perspective of the staff toward the residents generally leaned heavily on policy and procedure and encompassed a lot of “I will help you. This is what you need. This is what you’ll do.”

The woman who began the end to my precarious autonomy would be a new staff member named Lynn Lavigne.

Lynn was far ahead of her time and peers. She adopted what we would now call a youth-centric approach. Her perspective was one of “I want to help you. Let me participate alongside you in identifying your needs and the possible pathways to having them met.”

The act of Lynn affirming and recognizing the validity and value of my voice allowed me the opportunity to begin to explore the positive power of my voice and get acquainted with what it felt like, its potential and beneficial impact.

Her initial cultivation of my vocal power allowed me to take a stand for my own future, how it would unfold, and even the pace of its unveiling. I began to engage my voice in expression of my own care and justice for myself and my peers.

Lynn moved on after one year while I stayed on at the group home for another 2 1/2 years.

My power of voice continued to develop. I grew in experience of effectively speaking truth to power, so that I achieved the results I wanted, instead of being punished for angry outbursts.

I became a role model that staff directed other girls to emulate and had the honor later on of being the first former resident to sit on their board of directors.

Even today, I use my voice to facilitate conversations around owning your power and walking in your possibility.

As a collective of persons with lived experiences, allies, professionals, and policy makers, we all have a part to play in nurturing the voices of children and youth in care as a mechanism to healing, to freedom, to self-actualization, to power, to possibility.

We must amplify their voices in ways that disrupt systems and narratives that sustain institutionalized injustice and maintain poor outcomes.

When we make it our responsibility to take ownership in developing their voices in their individual capacities whatever those may be, they will be empowered to speak to any situation that affects them as they navigate spaces where they will encounter bias, stereotyping, low expectation, discrimination. It’s important that we support their voices in creating a child welfare system that bases its policies and programming on data driven and outcome-based results.

Let’s use our own voices to empower theirs.

Even a soft voice is a powerful thing.

Email: ingridwp2000@yahoo.ca
Facebook: Ingrid Palmer
Twitter: @IngridVirago