Imagine having to leave your family and everything you hold dear about home at the age of seven. This is the story of Gerald Mcbride, a former foster youth in Canada.
When Mcbride was younger, him and many other children in similar situations were transferred to various foster homes and group homes based on availability. Whenever he had a chance he would visit Toronto to see his family, especially his grandmother and sister. When he was 17 years old, Mcbride was kicked out of foster home due to his aggressive behavior.
One of the hardest things to deal with for Mcbride was having to face the stigma that is attached to people from foster homes. The stigmatization has affected Mcbride in ways that he would find it hard to promote change within himself.
In the shelter, Mcbride found himself abusing alcohol and prescription drugs to cope with severe depression that made it hard for him to even get up sometimes.
Eventually, he was able to turn the negative into a positive.
“‘He is mentally ill’ or ‘he is lazy’, these labels enraged me and forced me to get up and make a change,” said Mcbride. But his transition to positivity was not without people who deeply believed in him.
“I was extremely lucky because I had a social worker who was amazing, patient, caring, and most importantly accepted me as I was. . . She promoted the best in me. She also showed me what it took to make real changes,” said Mcbride.
This lead him to believe that long-term mentorship starting at a young age for foster children was the key to success for the foster youth.
Despite his successful transition with the help of his mentor, not everyone was as fortunate as Mcbride. Mcbride saw his friends lose themselves to addictions, criminal activity, and mental illness. While staying at Turning Point Youth Services in Toronto, Mcbride felt the foster youth needed more than just social programs.
“People did not need another social program. They needed people to believe in them.”
Eventually, Mcbride made his way into Transitional Year Programme at the University of Toronto, a program intended for adults who do not have the formal qualifications for university admission. Here, Mcbride focused on developing himself professionally and started to learn about advocacy, education, mentorship, and social innovation.
In an effort to improve the foster care system in North America, Mcbride recently approached a U.S. based company called Foster Skills, a company that seeks to improve foster care systems by crowdsourcing innovative ideas. He submitted his idea of mentorship in order to empower foster youth.
Foster Skills, founded by a former foster youth Marquis Cabrera, receives ideas to improve foster care systems from the public and from individuals who have experienced foster care called “experience experts”. The experts rank these ideas then Foster Skills steps in to evaluate the top 15 ranked ideas. Once the idea passes the evaluation, a prototype is developed by Foster Skills and experts to be observed and tested for its innovation. Once a prototype is finalized, a financial model is developed, then Foster Skills and experts secure political support and develop a distribution channel.
Mcbride feels that Canada would benefit from a company like Foster Skills.
“We seek to implement a system wide process which is supposed to account for every possible scenario related to child welfare. . . Foster Skills has built a strong enough organization that not only seeks to change systems, but also allow collaborative process to be shared and implemented in various environments,” said Mcbride.
Mcbride says that people don’t have to follow the traditional path in order to become successful, and that people can create their own positive change.
“I just want people to know that anything is possible. . . I have gone on my own path and look to social entrepreneurship as a means of creating my own positive change. Anyone can do something great, they just need the platform in which to do it.”