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BMG Involves Former Youth in Care in Feasibility Study

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Barnes Management Group (BMG) is committed to providing our clients with the best resources and consultants in any project we undertake. BMG prides itself on our ability to create project teams with a mix of skill, sector expertise and even youth / young professional client involvement where possible.

Recently, BMG engaged two former youth in care, Carlos McDonald and Sheldon Caruana, in a feasibility study completed for our client, the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada (CAFC). We also engaged 2 youth in care to assist with some of the data analysis, and they were selected by the CAFC team. We won’t mention their names due to confidentiality, but we greatly appreciated their enthusiastic and valued participation in this project.

Carlos and Sheldon were part of a larger group of BMG consultants that also included Michelle Schurter as the team lead. Michelle is an experienced social worker whose recent work focuses on training organizations to blend with millennials entering the constantly changing workforce. Michelle is a change guru who provides practical, savvy advice to companies, communities, and entrepreneurs. Another BMG colleague, Maria Crawford, Senior Project Advisor was also part of the team. Maria has strong connections with the service providers connected with this sector from her 20 years as the Executive Director of Eva’s Initiative. In addition to supporting the data synthesis and analysis, and final report writing, Maria also worked to connect the project team with the stakeholders. Guiding Carlos’ and Sheldon’s work in engaging youth, was James McGuirk. Experienced in Youth Engagement from his career in Child Welfare and most recently the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (OPACY) James lead the Youth Engagement portion of the project including the planning and coordination with the CAFC.

James, Michelle, and Maria

The BMG team also involved Sherman Quan, a technology consultant who worked concurrently using the findings from the BMG report to begin the planning of the technical specifications needed for this web-based resource. The entire BMG group worked closely with Rebecca Green, Director, Grants and Programs of the CAFC, and other members of the CAFC team.

A primary goal of the CAFC is to assist former youth in care to secure employment, and/or to pursue educational goals; while also identifying the barriers that prevent or hinder these goals from being achieved. As such, in the spring of 2019, CAFC sought to explore if a web-based resource like a website or an application for youth in transition could help reach this population of youth and connect them to available information, resources and support. Before investing in building a web-based resource CAFC wanted to know the needs of young people and service providers that could be met through a resource, and what will draw young people to a web resource and continue to use it.

BMG was engaged to lead consultations with youth and service providers to assess the needs of youth in transition, and how these groups perceive the use of digital as a helpful resource. In addition, BMG included a technology consultation to research existing tools and platforms, and review and interpret the results to provide an initial understanding of the technical specifications of a web-based resource.

Working as part of the project team allowed Sheldon and Carlos to gain valuable experience while providing the project team and the process with a rich lived-experience perspective from two former youth in care.

Reflecting on his experience with this project, Sheldon Caruana commented, “Working with BMG on the initiative to determine the most effective resource platform for youth in care was a meaningful opportunity both as a former youth in care and Child and Youth Care Worker in the field. The process emphasized the importance of involving young people at multiple levels of research and project development which allowed me and Carlos to provide feedback regarding the outreach, as well as connect with youth in the field. This multi-level process of youth involvement, in itself, is an important system to begin using when working on initiatives that involve young people according to the former Ontario Child Advocate, and young people.

The opportunity to work with and collect data from young people also was educative as it provided new insights into my own practices and challenges in which young people are facing when accessing available resources. This information provides an opportunity for me and others working on the project to develop ideas related to our research and implement them in our own practices”.

Sheldon also added, “Finally, advocacy work has been something that has been very important to me throughout my life, and having the opportunity to continue doing such work, provided me with an opportunity to continue doing the work I love.”

The other former youth in care, and Founder/Executive Director of World Changer Society, Carlos McDonald, offered the following thoughts on his experience of being part of the CAFC feasibility study, “I guess I’ll start by saying thank you to BMG for recommending me to be one of two youth engagement specialists on the team. It was a real honour to work with Sheldon Caruana and James McGuirk. I never thought I’d be working along side them, but there I was, so that was like a dream come true. The whole journey was erratic, heart pulse exciting, and it fired me up!”

James, Justine and Carlos

Carlos went on to add, “Going to the CAS building in Windsor was exciting because a fellow advocate leader, Justine Danford, was there. We met at Queens Park at the hearings in 2011. She enabled James and I to engage with a room full of children and a handful of staff. I used that time to speak to them on a real level while asking the specific questions aligned with our project. I did what was akin to me and I shared my story and how I knew Justine. The kids listened as I spoke and I had them engaged. I think the kids and the staff learned very valuable bits of information during my stay because I was able to speak with them in a way the staff couldn’t. It’s safe to say that not even James could speak with them that way. It reminded me of how important it was for me to be there and give them that dose of reality that could very well have impacted them to want to make a positive change in their future. I had kids thanking me after the session for opening up, and being honest, and sharing my story with them. They got it, they got why I was doing this and they knew I was going to make a difference in the world if I keep doing this. I was reassured, and I was given reassurance by these kids and a new found honour to meet and promise to keep. I loved doing this work for CAFC and especially BMG as I was finally able to be the youth engagement specialist that I signed up to be. It was a privilege to serve in this capacity and I would do it again if it meant helping to positively change the lives of young people in and from care.”

Innovative approaches, such as involving Sheldon and Carlos, striving to blend the right team members for any of our projects is just one thing that sets BMG apart from other consultants.

To be the best at what we do AND to make a difference.

If you would like to know more about this feasibility study or how BMG can assist your organization with similar work, please contact:

Michelle Schurter michelle.schurter@barnesmanagementgroup.com or

David Barnes at david.barnes@barnesmanagementgroup.com

Story Contributor: Fernando Tomas Saldanha
Managing Director, Barnes Management Group.

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