May 14, 2014 10:36 pm

Teens use the written word to fight stigma around foster care

The teens read selections from the newsletter Wednesday night at a public reading.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – Morgan Spencer has been in and out of foster care since she was baby, and the 17-year-old admits the experience hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been hard sometimes. Other times it’s been ok. There have been times I just had a hard time trying to get through things every day,” she said.

“There was a time I couldn’t see my family at all. Nobody really let me know they were there supporting me. Part of it, I felt like I was on my own.”

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Spencer, who admits to having suicidal thoughts at one point, struggled as a youth in foster care. Then, two years ago, she found help through an unlikely outlet: a newsletter.

“The first night, I fell in love with it. It was so much fun. It was everything that made me feel safe and happy,” she said.

The Voice is a newsletter written completely by teens, aged 14 to 19, who are in the foster care system.

Started in 2000, the newsletter brings together about a dozen teens once a week to discuss issues they may have difficulty sharing with others and encourages them to use the written word to express how they feel.

“They all keep a journal, week to week they get an assignment and they write,” said Sandy MacDonald, the executive director of the Youth In Care Newsletter Project.

“Some write a little, some write a lot. For all of them, it’s an outlet for them to talk about the issues that are important in their lives.”

The 2014 newsletter was officially unveiled Wednesday night at the Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth.

The teen writers got the chance to read some of their works in front of an audience and answer questions about their experience in foster care.

Spencer read her poem, Shining Ribbons, for the crowd; the poem is about how much she cherishes her friends.

She tells Global News she has seen a change in her writing since she first started in the program three years ago.

“My writing has gotten more detailed and more expressive. I’m writing more about my emotions and things. Just writing has made me realize how I really feel.”

“This newsletter helps us grow and just change, evolve and make things better for us.”

The project has also been incremental for Shauna Crane, 15, who has been in and out of foster care her whole life.

“I’ve had pretty abusive foster parents in the past. I’ve had a rough go. It’s hard not being around your parents and stuff. It’s hard adapting. I’ve moved nine times,” she said.

Crane admits she didn’t find the writing aspect helpful at first but found that soon changed.

“It’s somewhere you can write your feelings and just get it out,” she said.

“Writing for the newsletter allowed me to express myself in the way I want to be expressed, to get me personally to be heard,” said fellow writer Nathaniel Gorman, 16.

“To be, it was very helpful because when I want to try and say something and I can’t get it out right, being able to write it gave me that opportunity,” he said.

The teen writers said the social aspect of the group is also very helpful.

“It’s nice to be around people who understand the struggles you’ve been through in life. [They] can relate and you can just openly talk to [them],” Crane said.

Crane said she hopes people read the newsletter and reconsider their perception of kids in foster care.

“There’s a big stereotype. There’s a lot of stigma, [like] a lot of people in care have drug problems, are street kids, maybe it will open their eyes [to see] it’s not really the case,” she said.

“This is a lovely program I think for them to educate the larger population that they’re like every other teen out there. They struggle with the same issues that every adolescent goes through. Part of this program is about helping to change some of those perceptions,” MacDonald said.

The executive director said one of the main changes he sees in teens going through the program is an increase in their self confidence.

“That is such a difficult thing for teens, whether they’re youth in care or not. This program really tries to put an emphasis on getting comfortable speaking in public, writing and understanding feelings and emotions and how they impact on your life,” he said.

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