Overturning a legacy: barriers to post-secondary education faced by a former youth in care

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Photo sourced from Vancouver Island University (VIU)

ʔukłaamaḥ Caroline Thompson. I reside on the c̓išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht) territory. I am a single mother of two wonderful sons, Michael (15 years old) and Dean (10 years old). I am a registered member of the Tseshaht nation. Tseshaht is one of the 14 nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth people. The traditional way of introducing myself requires that I show who my parents are and who their parents are. I would also introduce myself with an Indigenous name. 

My father is Archibald Thompson Jr. of the Tla-o-qui-aht. His mom is the late Catherine Williams (Haida Gwaii). My dad’s second mom is the late Josephine Thompson (Ahousaht First Nation). His father is the late Archibald Thompson Sr. (from Toquaht First Nation).

My mother is Marcia Thompson (née Cloutier, from Haida Gwaii). My Mother’s mom is the late Agnus Rufus (Haida Gwaii), and her father is the late Ronald Cloutier Sr. (Haida Gwaii). I also discovered that Grandpa Ronald was adopted into the Cloutier family. He is originally from the MacDonald family. 

After my parents separated in the summer of 1988, I gained a step dad, Daryl Dol (Lucas), from Hesquiaht First Nation.

Colonialism has impacted my family deeply. My grandparents on both sides attended residential schools. My father, Archibald Jr., was forced alongside his siblings to attend residential school for many years. I am a second-generation residential school survivor. I am the second-oldest of eight children. My mom has four daughters and four sons. She is a second-generation survivor of the residential school era as well.  

After two generations of our family being forced to attend residential schools, my children and I are still facing challenges of the impacts and work towards health and wellness each day. The horrendous impacts of colonialism continues to leave many families and individuals with lifelong traumas. Overcoming these deep traumas takes awareness, hard work, and dedication.   

In 1992, I entered the foster care system. I was in and out of foster homes alongside my siblings for 10 years. I became a permanent ward at the age of 15 years old.  I moved out three months before my 19th birthday. I have been supporting myself for over 18 years.

I graduated high school in 2001. I was the first of my siblings to graduate high school. When I was in grade 10, I came across the First Nations Child & Youth Care Diploma Program offered by Malaspina College in Duncan, B.C. I knew I wanted to take this program, but first I had to upgrade at North Island College in Port Alberni, B.C. 

Photo provided.

After I successfully completed upgrading, I applied to this wonderful program and was accepted. Attending school was not easy for me, because I didn’t have a driver’s license or a vehicle. However, I started learning how to ask for support from classmates and Malaspina First Nation Advisors. I was able to stay in Duncan two nights each week, and I was able to complete the diploma program over the two school years, September 2003 through April 2005.     

I began my third year in the Bachelor of Child & Youth Care program at Malaspina College — now Vancouver Island University (VIU). 

I became a mom Nov. 30, 2005. Becoming a mom was exciting and at the same time scary and stressful. My son was six months old when I entered the workforce. I landed a full-time, permanent job with a non-profit organization called the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC). Nuu-chah-nulth offers many services and supports to families of the 14 nations.

While I was employed by the NTC, I was a Nuu-chah-nulth education worker, for nine years and a reservations clerk/administrative assistant clerk for three years. When I changed positions, my salary was decreased. I searched for a part-time job. I started two part time jobs while I was in that position. I continued  to work three jobs for about two years. 

In 2009, during my time with NTC, I became a single parent to my two boys. Because I worked and was a single single parent for many years, I started thinking that, “If I can work three jobs to support myself and my two sons, I should be able to go back to school and finish my Bachelor of Child & Youth Care degree. Upon graduating, I would be able to work one job and spend more time with my sons and extended family.” 

In the Spring of 2018, I applied and was accepted into the VIU Child & Youth Care Program. I applied for band funding; however, the amount provided is comparable to social assistance support. My rent took most of my living allowance, and made life for me and my family very stressful. As the living allowance did not provide enough for my family’s living costs, I applied for B.C. student loans. 

Due to a car accident in 2011, I have ongoing disabilities: one of these is chronic back pain. I reached out to the Accessibility Services at VIU. I also applied and started to access the Tuition Waiver Program in January 2019. They helped gather a variety of supports for my educational journey. I discovered there was limited support for people like me: a mature student who was previously in the foster care system. Many of the limitations are due to my age (37 years old). Many supports are offered for those learners who are 19-25. However, I connected with a kind lady named Angela, who helps students such as myself learn about support from the Youth Futures Education Fund. The fund provides enough for basic living expenses for former youth in care. I have accessed this funding one time only. This one payment has helped me with the costs for travel costs, textbooks, and supplies. 

This time around as a dedicated, mature university student, I am very open to reaching out for tutor support, financial support, along with learning the services available for a student like me. I am a strong, Indigenous, single parent who has aged out of the foster care system and continues to reach for the stars. By April 2021, I will have completed my Bachelor Child & Youth Care, with plans to continue onto a master’s. I am in the process of looking at various master’s programs, what universities offer the specific programs, and what this means for my sons and I. 

I have struggled financially, emotionally, and physically. I value what I am learning because it will lead to many meaningful employment opportunities. As I learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing and being along with CYC practices, my whole family benefits in my educational journey. I am humbled to have support from VIU, my family, my kids, my classmates, and my tutors. I also like to share a message that once a person has earned their education, no one can take that education away.   

Whatever path you may desire, reach out to the financial assistance office of your college or university and see what tuition waiver services are available. There are many other supports they can suggest for you to be the most successful in your educational journey. I used to think asking for help was a sign of weakness. It is not a weakness. It is gaining knowledge and accessing supports that are there for you to utilize as you move forward on your educational paths!