A former foster child of Vanderhoof has found a passion in social work and wants to improve the lives of children in government care.
Born in Vanderhoof, Ashley McMullin is studying psychology and looks to eventually transfer to the University of Northern British Columbia to complete the social worker program.
“Between family and foster care and emergencies, I had 36 different placements and 19 primary caregivers since birth,” McMullin said. “Growing up in care and dealing with multiple social workers has made it easier for me to understand what other young people are going through because I’ve lived it.”
In her second year as a member of the Youth Advisory Council, McMullin is providing advice to the Ministry of Children and Family Development about services for children and youth in care in B.C. The council is made up of youth who are in care or were previously in care and is involved in projects such as AgedOut.com, an over-10,000-user strong website that informs former youth in care about services that help them transition into adulthood.
“As a kid, I thought no one else is going through this, but when I met more, I realized I’m not alone,” McMullin said. “Getting the awareness out there is really important because foster kids need to thrive, not just to survive.”
For her, permanency and consistency is what’s missing for kids going through foster care.
“You go through care and they provide food and shelter, but you need love and stability and so much more to be a happy, healthy person,” she said. “A big piece is finding people who wants to take care of these kids that are coming with trauma and all the troubles.
“That sense of belonging is what kids need.”
Instability builds resiliency
McMullin is grateful for her experience and is determined to use it positively to help others in similar situations.
“I’m now really resilient and adaptable, and I won’t change my life, and all the foster kids, that made me who I am,” said McMullin, who also has a 12-year-old brother in care. “It might not feel that way, but you get to meet people and do fun stuff.
“I think that really speaks to the strength of kids in care.
“There’s a stigma for kids in care, like they are damaged goods, but despite their setbacks and tragedies, they can still become who they want to be, and that’s an admirable thing.
Previously in government care, McMullin qualifies for the Agreements with Young Adults program, which covers education and living expenses for former foster youth who looks to finish high school, attend post-secondary institutions, or complete a rehabilitation or life skills program.
AYA was recently expanded to cover youth who have aged out of care up to the age of 26 instead of 24, and now includes four years, not two years, of support.
“I aged out of care last July when I turned 19,” McMullin said. “I’m very lucky that there’s so many people around me who support me and care; aging out was terrifying.
“You think about people who have their parents — they don’t cut you off when you are 19.”
For McMullin, AYA gave her the opportunity to further her education and provide support for rent, textbooks, medical costs, and other living expenses that she would not be able to afford otherwise.
“Knowledge is power. You can go places if you have an education,” she said. “I want every kid in care to utilize AYA.”
To kids who are growing up in government care, she urged them strength.
“You’ve just got to hang on because it gets okay, and then it gets easier and then it feels like freedom.”