The Youth Voices Initiative partnered with Adler University to provide a 3-hour online workshop on April 1, 2022. The workshop was generously funded by the Notary Foundation. It focused on providing Adler students (future counsellors and therapists) with insight into the impact of separation and divorce on children and youth and the importance of meaningful participation and voice for kids experiencing parental separation.
In addition to two amazing guest speakers (Suzette Narbonne – Child and Youth Legal Centre; and Andrea Yeo – Hear the Child practitioner), the highlight of the workshop was a moving story of lived experience. Lea (not her real name) is an Adler student and a member of the Youth Voices Leadership Group. She courageously described her experience of her parents’ divorce and interaction with the justice system over many years.
Lea recorded a special version of her story for public sharing and you can watch it here.
Excerpts from her story are included below.
We know that stories are powerful and we are so grateful for Lea’s willingness to share. There were many points where Lea’s suffering could have been stopped through an adult’s curiosity and caring intervention. Lea expected someone to ask how she was doing, what she wanted, and to speak up on their behalf – and no one did.
Lea has chosen to use her experience to try to help other kids. She is studying to be a counsellor/therapist through Adler University and plans to work with children and families.
We need an intersectoral approach to improve the well-being of children and youth experiencing separation and divorce. People working in many sectors including justice, healthcare, mental health, education, policing, social work have a key role to play. The participants in this workshop were mostly Adler students at the beginning of their careers. They report that they found Lea’s story to be inspiring and healing. We hope you will too.
Part Two is Lea’s reflective piece on her experience of planning, facilitating and presenting her story at the workshop. It will be out shortly so stay tuned!
If you would like more information about the Youth Voices Initiative check out our Instagram site: @youth_voices_bc. We would love to hear from you.
My story begins when I was about 2 years old when my parents got a divorce. This was shortly after the birth of my sister. She was only 5 months old.
I don’t really know what the reason was behind their divorce apart from the fact that I know that my Dad was abusive towards my Mom – physically abusive. Never towards me or my sister but towards my Mom. For that reason, when they did get divorced, she became our primary guardian. She was the one we lived with, and we saw my Dad every couple of weekends. In the beginning I do remember these visits were supervised. I do remember my parents had to go through the courts when they did get divorced.
Eventually we got to spend more time with our Dad on our own. Things were going okay for a while. My mom did have a few boyfriends who lived with us and unfortunately, they weren’t the greatest. Eventually she met someone when I was almost 10 years old. He lived across the country, and they decided to get married and we moved across the country. Because my Dad was still part of our lives, still our father, he had to give permission to my mom and the courts to let us move across the country. Unfortunately, at that point they made the deal that if he didn’t pay child support any more, or didn’t get in trouble for not paying child support, he would allow us to move across the country. So we moved. Unfortunately, me and my sister did endure some abuse. It was really difficult, and it was throughout our childhood from the time we moved up to when we left home.
I do remember the courts getting involved once more and that was shortly after we moved across the county. My mom wanted our new stepfather to adopt us so there was a lawyer who did ask for us to meet with her. So we did and I remember going somewhere downtown. I can’t remember what it was or what it was all about. I remember her asking, if … telling me and my sister that ultimately it was our choice whether we wanted to be adopted by our stepfather or whether we wanted to keep our father in our lives, and he would be our Dad still.
I think that was the only time we were ever included in any sort of decisions that were made about us. Honestly, that felt quite powerful, and it was also tough because we ultimately decided we did not want to be adopted and we wanted our father to stay in our lives and unfortunately, because of that decision, we suffered once we got home and for a while after. That sucked.
And no one checked in afterwards or asked us to see if we would be all right. Because we made a decision my mom and stepdad didn’t agree with, we suffered the consequences. Which as a kid we shouldn’t have had to do that.
Moving forward, unfortunately, we did suffer quite a bit of abuse over the years. It was quite sad because there were so many adults in our lives, at school, the school bus, the parents of our friends. We were visibly not okay and no one ever spoke up, no one ever said anything. Me and my sister also never said anything because we knew what it would be like if we spoke up. We had suffered consequences in the past so we never said anything. But we had this expectation that some adult would one day speak up on our behalf. And say hey you know what something is not right here something is wrong. Unfortunately, that never happened. So now going into a career where I am going to get wot work with children and families like this, I see the importance of. I see my story as an opportunity or something I can take away and see that sometimes kids are not going to ask for help but there are other signs to look out for in that at the end of the day we are the adults, and we should be standing up for these kids and protecting them in any way that we can.
That is what I have taken away from my story. I am still healing and working on what happened. I’m in my late 20’s now and I’m still suffering some of the trauma and pain that I suffered as a kid up to my teens. But it has taught me a lot, and in the end, sharing my story is helpful because it shows other people that this happens, this is very real, and I didn’t deserve – I don’t deserve to have this story. My story should look different. Unfortunately, it does happen. In Canada, BC, everywhere around the world kids deserve to have a voice, they deserve to be advocated for. We are the adults in this, and we need to be there for them.
Thank you for listening.