A young voice of resilience and a judge who listened
by Ammy Purcell
When I was around 13 years old, I was taken from my home and placed into the foster care system. Scary, right? Moving in with people you don’t know is terrifying alone. But the scariest part for me was not knowing what was going to happen next. I was old enough to know that the courts were involved, that my father had to go to court, that my social worker had to go to court, even my foster mother had to go to court. But where was my invitation to all this?
After all, this is my life they are making decisions on. I felt I had the right to be there and be involved in these decisions. But every time I asked to be involved, I got the same answer, “We will do what is in your best interest.” I had a guardian ad litem and my social worker explained that she would be there to represent my best interest, but I had only met her once, how could she know what my best interest was? I was angry and I felt left in the dark. I held on to this feeling for a long time. I didn’t trust the system at all, I felt like they had failed me by not listening to what I had to say in matters that affected my life.
I moved back home at 16 and my life was starting to get back to normal. But I still held this grudge against the system. I wasn’t even involved in the decision to move back home. I was 16 and my temporary care had “expired.” That’s it. See ya later. No more social worker, no more counselling, nothing. I didn’t feel I was ready. I was doing well where I was. I knew I needed structure and I was getting that. The only thing I did get to hold on to was The Voice of Youth in Care newsletter project, and thank goodness for that. In fact, I owe every success I have in life to that program. I am even still with them today, 16 years later as program director.
It was through The Voice that I got involved with the Society’s UnCommon Law project in 2005 and that is where I met Justice Gerald Moir. I don’t think I realized I was talking to a judge at the time but I was telling my story of being in care and my distrust with the legal system to a group of people sitting at my table. I remember getting emotional talking about not having a say in what happens with my own life. I also remember him listening very intently. He almost seemed shocked by what I was telling him. But the day moved on and I didn’t think much else about it.
Awhile later, I received a letter in the mail from the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Very official looking. (My father was upset because he thought I was in trouble.) It was an invitation for myself and the rest of the newsletter group to meet with Justice Moir in his chambers to tell our stories and experiences with the legal system, and being in care of the province.
What an honour! He remembered my story. He listened. And he wanted to do something to help. I couldn’t believe that someone in his position was genuinely interested in what a bunch of kids had to say about the problems they face with the legal system. After meeting with Justice Moir and really expressing all the negative feelings I had towards the system, I started to realize that instead of holding a grudge, I wanted to do something about it to help others who may be in the same situation. Shortly after that, myself and a few other people from The Voice started a project with the students at Dal Law called “The Law and You,” a guide to the rights of youth in care. This was designed to answer all the questions a young person coming into care might have.
As an adult, I still feel there are some things being overlooked when it comes to youth and the legal system. There needs to be more resources and accessible information when it comes to youth in care. Maybe there is a young person out there now who wants to tell their story at a table where there just Community conversations inform justice improvements happens to be a judge listening, who knows what may come out of it? All it takes is someone to just listen.