Program helps former and current youth in care transition to adulthood
Kayla Sheard has had it tough. When she was about 10, her mother attempted suicide, which led to a late-night knock on the door by police and her being taken to a foster home.
“My story is long, my story is sad and my
story is true, but it is still being written
every single day and every single day I
move forward and I keep my head high.”
— Kayla Sheard
“I had never felt more scared in my entire life, and I remember crying myself to sleep because I just wanted to go home,” Sheard recalls.
After splitting the next year between three foster homes, Sheard spent years bouncing back and forth between her parents. At 16 she was homeless and raising a baby boy. She went on to lose custody of her son and attempt suicide three times. Throughout her youth she felt terrified, lonely, neglected and lost, battling addiction and struggling to form normal relationships.
“My story is long, my story is sad and my story is true,” Sheard says, “but it is still being written every single day and every single day I move forward and I keep my head high.”
Now 27, Sheard is on a path toward a career in interior design, a shift she credits to Advancing Futures, a program within Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services.
“It’s been a life changer,” Sheard says. “If this hadn’t happened, I would just be wallowing in my own misery and hating the world.”
Created specifically for former and current youth in care, Advancing Futures provides funding to students to pursue upgrading, a trade and post-secondary education, as well as help to successfully transition to adulthood. Each student is connected to a program coordinator who provides social and emotional support, including life skills coaching and assistance navigating adult systems.
“Advancing Futures is unlike anything else in Canada because we provide that extra support,” says program coordinator Kari Castle.
Since the program’s inception in 2004, 2,627 students have received funding and 1,200 students have graduated with a certificate, trade, diploma or degree. In the 2017/18 academic school year, 730 students received funding. Every youth in the program has a rich story and a variety of needs ranging from life skills to mental health support, housing and child care.
“Success varies on so many different levels for students. Success can mean getting to school every day or completing one semester,” Castle says. “The success really comes in seeing them be so proud of themselves and their accomplishments.”
Last year the government released an action plan entitled A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow, which contains a recommendation to improve post-secondary opportunities for youth involved with the child intervention system. To help achieve this, Advancing Futures will focus on increasing youth participation in the program by 20 per cent per year over the next five years.
“Part of our recruitment strategy is to focus on raising awareness among teachers and other educators, because Advancing Futures is not as well known as it could be in the Alberta school system,” Castle says.
Teacher Michelle Cowan-Chiu, a guidance counsellor with the Calgary Board of Education’s Chinook Learning Services program, is well aware of the Advancing Futures program and she’s seen its impact on youth.
“They have a future that otherwise they may not have had because they just didn’t have the support that you find in a traditional family,” Cowan-Chiu says.
“Some of these kids have been in six, seven different high schools,” she says. “They haven’t had a stable family, so Advancing Futures is giving them that stability.”
Sheard says the program helped her take her mind off her problems and grow as a person. As well, the funding enabled her to upgrade her high school education then earn a two-year diploma in interior design. She’s now a matter of weeks away from completing a second certificate, in kitchen and bath design, at Bow Valley College.
Once she’s done her program, Sheard hopes to find work in her field and, in a few years, possibly start her own business.
“I’ve been through a lot,” she says. “I had a lot of really bad breaks and this is probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.” ❚