Like many other youth before and after her, Carrie Davis struggled with transitioning from living in a group home to living on her own.
Having been in government care since the age of two, at 19 years old, Davis was finally “ageing out” of the system, spending her last while in her Whitehorse group home in a “transitioning suite” that was, in theory, supposed to prepare her for life outside.
“This had a stove and a fridge and a couch and a TV and a room and a bathroom, obviously — everything that somebody would need to move out on their own,” Davis says in her new documentary, Ageing Out.
“However, this wasn’t really functional because while they gave me all these things, they didn’t teach me how to cook or how to budget or how to shop for food… (When I moved out) I was definitely very depressed and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was scared.”
The struggles that youth face as they age out of government care is nothing new — it’s an issue that’s been highlighted over and over again in reports, studies and by advocates for years now. But one thing is often missing from the discussion: the voices of the youth who actually lived through the experience.
For Davis, who’s now 31 and studying digital media in Nanaimo, B.C., those voices are crucial for getting people to understand the extent and impact of the problem and finding a solution. Motivated by her own experience with the system and feeling frustrated after hearing stories about youth today who are still going through the same thing, Davis decided to make Ageing Out in order to allow youth to speak for themselves.
“I think that when reviews have come around in the past, often the reports get buried, and the public never gets to see what youth are going through in these situations,” Davis wrote in an email to the News Oct. 3. “I hope that people gain an understanding for youth in care, and armed with the knowledge I hope they feel moved to do what’s in their power to bring forth meaningful change.”
Davis produced the nearly two-hour-long documentary, which premiered in Whitehorse Sept. 28, with the support of the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office (YCAO) and Shakat.
Along with telling her own story in intimate, and at times painful, detail, Davis also spoke to four other youth who aged out of group homes, YCAO staff, a staff member from the group home she lived at, a former RCMP officer and an advocate for children in group homes.
“It was absolutely difficult to tell my story, but I am always an open book and think that it is a gift to give back my experience and use it to improve the life of others,” Davis wrote. “Before getting into digital media, I wanted to be a social worker so that I could help youth in the same situation as me. I knew that it was going to be hard hearing other people’s stories, but this is what I’ve always wanted to do. When it got rough, I just remembered that this project was much bigger than I am.”
Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Annette King, who’s featured in the documentary, said Davis approached her about creating Ageing Out when she visited the Yukon earlier this year, and that she couldn’t turn down an opportunity to help amplify youth voices.
“I think sometimes, people speak for kids and sometimes people speak for kids without asking them,” King said in an interview Oct. 2.
“So I think to really do respectful youth engagement is not an easy task, especially when we’re talking about engaging young people who have been through some hard stuff, and if we use Carrie as a model on how to connect with people who have something really hard to say but something really meaningful, and I think when people who make decisions hear about what those young people have to say, you can’t unhear it. It’s really impactful.”
King is currently undertaking a review of group homes. Whistleblowers, including youth and staff, came forward to the CBC earlier this year about working and living conditions in Whitehorse group homes. The scope of the review reaches back three years.
While Davis and the other youth in the documentary aged out earlier than that and policies and laws have changed, King said their experiences are reflections of systemic issues that still exist today.
“(The documentary is) not connected to the scope of the group home review, but it is acknowledging that (ageing out) isn’t a new issue,” King said. “… I think we have all sorts of people making best-intentioned decisions, but when we listen to these stories and these young people’s experiences fully, we can make changes that are going to be more meaningful.”
For youth currently in group homes, Davis said that she hopes that Ageing Out shows that “there are a whole lot of people in the community who care about them.”
“I hope they can find the courage to speak to someone like Annette King or (Kwanlin Dün First Nation) Chief Doris Bill if they need help. I also hope the youth see that someone who went through care made this video and understand that the opportunities for system kids are limitless — if we put our minds to it!” she wrote.
“I can’t remember a time when these issues were taken so seriously by the public before,” Davis added. “Because of (the issue wasn’t being taken so seriously before), the government has never had to do too much to implement changes and when they do it is a slow change. Ageing Out was a way that we could get this information out to the public, and we can already see it making a difference.”
Ageing Out is available on YouTube as well as on the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate’s website.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org