By Amanda Owusu
Posted on September 24, 2021
According to figures from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid’s Societies, there are on a monthly average almost 9,300 children and youth in care. Despite the large volume of young people navigating the system, the child welfare system in Canada is still broken and continues to inflict more damage than good on many of its clients. In recent years, the government has tried to change the legislation surrounding youth in care, even enacting the new Child, Family and Youth Services Act to be more “youth-centred.” However, gaps still persist, impacting the countless youth navigating the child welfare system, especially Black and Indigenous youth. On the bright side, some youth who witnessed first-hand how damaging these systems can be, like Chanice McAnuff, have created effective solutions and founded initiatives designed to address the issues that persist in the child welfare system. Black Voice had the opportunity to interview Chanice McAnuff and learn more about her work with Project Outsiders.
BV: Tell us about yourself Chanice! Who is Chanice McAnuff and how did you come to start Project Outsiders?
CM: I am a former youth in care from York Region Children’s Aid Society and have been advocating on behalf of youth for approximately five years. I am currently the Director of Ontario for Youth in Care Canada and I now have a seat as a director on the board of the Children’s Aid Society I grew up in.
I founded Project Outsiders because I noticed the advocacy work I was doing as a member of some committees was not leading to enough significant change. I wanted to provide a platform that youth in care could use to reach decision-makers more easily while being able to communicate their experiences and advocate for better conditions in care. I find the most effective advocacy is when the people affected by the problem are working directly with those who can change it. We at Project Outsiders want to create a system where youth in care can work directly with the decision-makers in the child welfare sector on an active and ongoing basis to implement instrumental change that will produce better outcomes after care.
BV: What’s your goal with Project Outsiders? Why do you think an initiative such as Project Outsiders is important in today’s society?
CM: We aim to bridge the gap between youth in and from care, and the decision-makers who can effectively influence change in systems. Through advocacy, education and supportive engagement with our community and local partners, we aim to tackle issues that contribute to the perpetuation of struggle and pain for youth in and from care. Youth in care need to be at the forefront of decisions that impact their life. We now have proof of how the traditional methods in child welfare have caused significant harm to children, youth, and their futures. The sector has vocalized its commitment to creating better outcomes and it starts with working with experts who have lived-experience.
BV: What are some of your current initiatives that are underway at Project Outsiders?
CM: We are currently in the process of creating a short film that will depict the life cycle of youth in care while highlighting a few of the prominent issues within different intersectionalities. We hope to bring more attention to our community while telling an accessible story to a diverse group of audiences. We are in the process of completing a massive fundraising campaign to curate enough money and resources to execute this project. In October we plan to host a live fundraising event located downtown Toronto to be able to reach our funding goal and educate our community about the child welfare system at the same time.
BV: Tell us more about the podcast at Project Outsiders, what are some of the topics you address on your show?
CM: One of the reasons we began our organization through utilizing a platform like a podcast is because we wanted to emphasize the importance of starting with youth voices to build upon change. We wanted to validate the experiences of other young people in care by showing the consistencies throughout our different stories. We spoke on a variety of topics including aging out of foster care, the Indigenous youth experience, the Black youth experience, LGBTQ2S+ experiences, groups, education and so much more. We hope people can understand the seriousness of the crisis we are in and are willing to commit to being a part of the change.
BV: Why do you think it’s important to have advocates with lived experience involved in these processes?
CM: We have seen throughout time how poor the outcomes are when people speak for us. Having youth in care be at the forefront of changing policies, programs, and operational structures is a fundamental change in itself to the child welfare system. It is redefining the value of youth with lived experience and committing to investing back into the community. We want to destigmatize youth in care and change the perception of them as troublemakers and delinquents. We aim to replace this view with highly needed assets and rare insight into the current gaps blindspot unaware to professionals.
BV: What’s one thing most people don’t know about the child welfare system in Ontario/Canada that you think everyone should know?
CM: Our current child welfare system is a pipeline to other oppressive systems and realities including the criminal justice system, shelter system, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse and more. As youth we have very little control over our environment and the minute we become a part of this system we are now in a fight to beat the odds. We become a statistic that tells us our future will be one full of poverty and disparity. One thing people don’t understand is that our current child welfare system reflects the health of our society and our government.
BV: What’s your hope for the future of child welfare? If we lived in an ideal world, what would the system look like to you?
CM: The child welfare system would not exist. All programs and supports would be offered directly to the family, kin, or community. Youth would feel loved by people instead of being isolated and divided by systems.
BV: Change within the child welfare system seems so abstract. What can be done in day-to-day life to help foster positive change within the system and support youth in care?
CM: Give youth in care the tools they need to succeed independently. Emphasize and emulate healthy relationships in their life so they can mimic them later. Teach them how to be able to trust others by giving them reasons to trust you. Teach youth in care about boundaries by respecting them. Provide them with equitable opportunities like access to higher education and supplement their financial needs.
How can one support or get to know more Project Outsiders?
Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity