Janelle Younge was a foster child who made something out of nothing with the aid of Hope for Children. It has distributed more than $3 million in scholarships and grants. Photo by Michael Swan

Children’s fund can turn hope into reality

By 
  • September 1, 2017

Janelle Younge was 14 when she called Toronto’s Catholic Children’s Aid Society. When the social worker arrived and saw bruises spread across Younge’s face and arms, she wanted the girl out of the house right away, before her father got home.

“I left with the clothes on my back,” said Younge.

By the time she was 16, Younge was living on her own, with occasional visits from a Catholic Children’s Aid social worker and yearly trips to Guyana to spend two weeks with her mother.

While she had initially done well in high school, she soon discovered teachers didn’t expect too much of her and that she could score decent marks while still skipping school half the time.

“I noticed I didn’t have to try,” she said. “They’re kind of just shovelling kids out.”

It wasn’t a start in life that seemed destined for success. But on Aug. 22 the young mother and social worker, who holds a Master of Social Work degree and is launching her own supportive housing agency, was at the annual Hope For Children Fund education gala in Toronto to tell 89 crown wards that they can dream, they must dream and they can achieve their dreams.

Since 1986, Hope For Children has distributed over $3 million in scholarships and grants to about 2,500 former foster children, including Younge, so they can go to college or university.

Hope For Children was created in 1980 as a separate foundation to help former kids in care because they aged out of the system at 18, about the same time they are graduating from high school. The foundation became a fund within Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society in 2011.

Foster kids who have been accepted into post-secondary programs have more than earned the chance, said Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society executive director Janice Robinson. Less than half of Ontario’s crown wards complete high school (46 per cent in 2012-13), compared to well over 80 per cent of the population in general.

Hope for Children is a way for the Catholic community and its children’s aid society to do exactly what caring parents would do for their own children once they’ve completed high school, said Robinson.

“We’re all waking up to the potential of these kids,” Robinson told The Catholic Register before the annual gala to distribute scholarships at the Toronto Reference Library.

Younge relied on the Hope For Children scholarships through years of study at Humber College starting in 2003, followed by York University undergraduate and graduate degrees. She also worked in the shelter system helping homeless men find housing.

At the other end of a long educational journey, Younge remains connected to kids in care helping youth find housing. She now hopes to build on her expertise in housing and social work by creating her own agency — Transitions Supportive Housing Programs.

Younge said she hoped to encourage this year’s scholarship recipients to set goals and believe in themselves.

“You can do whatever you want to do,” she said. “It’s a matter of deciding — making that decision. Why can’t you be those things? Being a kid in care doesn’t stamp you.”

Where kids need support the most is when they’re leaving the care of the children’s aid society, Younge said.

“I’m going to tell them, ‘You have a great support system here. Use it. Your going to need it,’ ” she said.

Without parents they can rely on, college or university is a steep hill to climb for teens and young adults who must also pay their own rent, buy their own clothes and put food on the table. More than 80 per cent of university students get help from their parents to cover approximately $21,000 a year worth of tuition, books, rent and groceries.

Today there is more government funding and college or university scholarships, but there are still gaps and Hope For Children is there to fill them, said Robinson.

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