A program called Foster Up in Winnipeg is helping teenagers who are aging out of the foster care system and trying to navigate post-secondary education.
Natasha Reimer, 24, found youth aging out of the child welfare system were left on their own when it came to university, so she decided to change that.
Reimer is the creator of Foster Up, a peer-support group for youth who have been in care.
“I wanted to connect with somebody who had experienced what I had been through,” Reimer told APTN News after one of the group’s meetings.
University is hard for youth at the best of times with deadlines, exams and high tuition costs that leave many relying on support from others.
But Reimer found that young people trying to find their way in the post-secondary world had no one to turn to?
The group meets twice a month at the University of Winnipeg where they discuss challenges they face as well as opportunities available to them.
Reimer, who is Indigenous and Caribbean, spent her life bouncing around different group and foster homes.
She was apprehended from her mother at the age of one. When she was four she was adopted – but that fell through and she was placed back in care when she was 14.
Reimer said the only constant thing in her life was education. When she reached university she was finally able to shed the foster kid label she lived with.
“No one in university knew that I was in care. I was able to distance myself. I was just another face amongst a whole bunch of other faces,” she said.
“It wasn’t like in high school when your social worker drops you off at school and you’re sitting in the office and everyone is staring at you…oh, she’s a foster kid.”
As time went on Reimer researched different bursaries and tuitions for available for current and former youth-in-care. She found she was left little support when it came to pursuing a degree, and she met other students in the same position.
Reimer saw this as an opportunity to create a group tailored to the unique challenges former kids in care face.
For many it’s also a place where they can talk with others who have been in care.
Heaven Geller is one of those youth.
The 19-year-old was in care off and on until she was adopted by a non-Indigenous family at the age of seven.
She said the group has given her a chance to speak about her experiences for the first time.
“I wanted to explore what was actually happening and I wanted to know about my biological side… then when I did it was a lot of hurt and a lot of trauma, so I just decided to keep it inside,” said Geller.
“To come and talk with these guys and hear them it’s like you’re not alone. So, to really open up with everyone and hear everyone else’s stories it’s kind of reassuring.”
Stories of pain, trauma and most importantly resilience are shared during Foster Up meetings. The group encourages each other and takes every opportunity to celebrate successes because this is something the system doesn’t do, said Reimer.
“It taught you to barely survive but to never thrive,” she said. “For a lot of kids in care I feel like that’s the message they’re hearing…no one asks you what you want to be when you grow up when you’re in care because that’s not a reality for you.”
Geller said it’s easy for others to write off kids in care, but she hopes people will see beyond that.
“We’re not all bad people. I think there is a stereotype that CFS kids they are troubled kids and bad, into drugs and alcohol, and unfortunately yeah some of it is true however we have to see where this is stemming from,” she said.
Reimer is set to graduate with a degree in criminal justice this year. After that she is headed to law school. And while she is celebrating some hard earned successes she says the biggest one has been fostering a new family.
“I’ve learned about this whole community of kids in care that exists that were walking among me for all these years and I’m just so happy we’re all kind of together.”