Tinkerbell is a 22-year-old woman who describes on-going physical and mental health issues. She had identified learning disabilities that were well accommodated at college, but she did not complete the course because of health issues. She considers long-term foster parents/siblings her family and lives with her fiancé in a house in Cottage County that belongs to them. She is 3 weeks pregnant. Her partner, Jim, who is also a participant, is a construction apprentice. Her foster brother, Dan, is also a participant; he returned to the community to support his family by running the family business with his father.
FM: Let’s start with you telling me a bit about how you were raised, your up bringing: who was in your family, where you lived, how you lived, etc.
So when I was 6, my biological parents they used to beat us, we were always hungry because there was no food to eat. We never went to school because we weren’t allowed to. Then [child welfare] got involved and moved us to – my brother and I – a different home. I don’t really remember much of it because we didn’t really stay there long. And then we were moved again which I don’t remember that home, neither. Then we were moved to the Henry’s where I went to school every day. I got to experience going to Myrtle Beach and Disney Land and a lot of other travelling. I got food every day, 3 times a day. I always had a place to sleep
FM: How old were you when you arrived at the Henry’s?
I was 7.
FM: And was your brother placed with you?
FM: And how old was he?
He’s four years older than me. So he’d have been 11. We also had a sister and two other brothers, but they were all older than us and they never came into the same homes as us.
FM: Did they also come into care?
My sister did. My two older brothers were in jail.
FM: Hmmm. Okay. How long did you stay with the Henry’s?
FM: Okay, til now? You’re still ‘with them’ in a way?
FM: Can you say a bit more about that? Like… what arrangements – were you adopted? What happened when you left child welfare care?
We had a choice if we wanted to be adopted by the Henry’s but I chose not to because then I would have been out of [child welfare] and they were helping pay for my prescriptions and everything.
FM: How old were you when you were asked to make this choice?
FM: Okay. So you remained a ward in the Henry’s foster home until what age?
Well I guess I’m not considered a foster child any more because I’m out of [child welfare] when I was 21.
FM: Okay. So when did you actually move out on your own, out of the Henry’s home, and what was that all about?
I was 19. I moved to Jim’s parent’s place (Jim is my fiancé). Because my mom wouldn’t give me some space. And we were always fighting so I decided to move out and that year I went to college.
At [a community college in a town about 200 km south].
FM: Did Jim’s family live in [that town]?
No. They live in Cottage County.
FM: Okay, so did you go from the Henry’s to Jim’s and then to school?
I kinda got that wrong. I started college and the summer after I started college I moved out from Henry’s. I got a taste of what it was like to be on my own. And after that, going back to being under my mom’s overprotectiveness was just too much.
FM: So then you moved out of Henry’s and in with Jim’s family?
FM: And what did you take at college?
I took child and youth worker. But I only got two years in because of my health issues.
FM: I want to hear about the health issues, but first, can you say a bit about how you experienced the college life. How was that for you?
It was crazy. A lot of partying the first year especially. But I enjoyed being on my own.
FM: Did you live in residence?
For the first two years I did. In my third year I was living in an apartment, but I was only living down there for two months.
FM: So were you doing a lot of partying when you lived in res, or only when you moved off campus?
All my partying days was in my first year. My second year I got switched to a different residence because I didn’t like the partying. It was too loud; I couldn’t get to sleep.
FM: If I’m doing my math right, you weren’t of legal drinking age when you were partying. Is that right, and how did that happen?
I was 19 so I was legal, just legal.
FM: So was the partying at the res, or elsewhere?
FM: So where were the dons or residence monitors or whatever you call them?
They were around in their office if you had an issue but I was in the partying building so we were allowed.
FM: Who said it was the partying building?
In the description I got in my paper work to tell me about the residence I was staying in, because there were five different residence buildings and three of them are non-partying and two of them are partying buildings. But you don’t get to choose which one you’re in. Unless you are 18, then they put you into the non-partying building.
FM Okay, help me do the math. How old were you when you started at [college]?
I was 19.
FM: But you got assigned the first year to a partying building.
Yes, but I switched second year to a quiet building.
FM: Okay. Now that we’ve got that sorted a bit, tell me a bit about how you experienced the academic side of life.
It was hard. But I enjoyed it. I loved my teachers. But it definitely kept me on my toes.
FM: You had to work fairly hard to keep up?
Yes. I have a disability.
FM: A learning disability?
Yes. Which I can’t remember the name of it right now.
FM: Is it dyslexia or something like that? Where letters won’t stay put as they should?
No. It’s more of a memory problem. And a hearing issue. I had to wear FM system in classes.
FM: Okay. So they accommodated your learning disability – fairly well?
Yes. I had help – they have a disability office there with some people that can help you with your homework or give you extra time to finish it. And for tests I always had an open notebook.
FM: Very good – would you give [your college] full marks with how they handled your learning disability?
FM: And how about how they supported you in making the transition from being under your parents’ care to being on your own? What marks would you give them there?
Full marks. Because if I needed help, I could just ask and they would always be there for me. In both aspects.
FM: How often did you visit back home, the Henry’s, during the school year?
The first year, every weekend because my sister, she lives in [the college town] and she went home every weekend so I just got a ride back and forth with her.
FM: And how involved was she in your day-to-day life while you were in [college town]?
Very involved. She’s like my second mother.
FM: And second year, how often did you come home?
Well I tried to come home as often as I could to see Jim because I couldn’t stand being away from him too long. Or he’d come up and see me.
FM: So in the second year, when you came home, it was to see Jim rather than the Henry’s, mostly?
Yes. I did see the Henry’s as well. But I mostly came up to see Jim.
FM: Tell me a bit about Jim: was he raised in Cottage County? How did you get to know him? Etc.
Yes he was raised in Cottage County. We actually met in high school. One of my friends was dating him at the time. Then after high school, we saw each other a few times over the summer at baseball and stuff. Then he added me on Facebook. And then we started dating on Easter weekend, three years ago. He’s an amazing guy. He works hard. He’s the best guy I’ve ever gone out with, really.
FM: You say he works hard; what does he do?
He is a carpenter. He graduated from … he was an apprentice in Middletown. He works with a family friend but if he can’t work a whole day, he doesn’t like to just come home and sit down, he’ll find something else to do that has work involved. Which I think is really good because most people up here usually just rely on income from another source.
FM: Such as ….
Ontario Works [Welfare]. ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program]. Or unemployment.
FM: So Jim manages to find work pretty much all year around?
Not in the winter time. He usually goes on unemployment but only because he has to. And it makes him stir crazy.
FM: Okay, so … did you move in with Jim’s family after that first summer home, and from there go back to [college] for second year?
FM: And then back to Jim’s family again between second and third year?
FM: And then when you had to leave school because of health issues – let’s talk about how your health broke down and how that was managed…
I started to always have bladder infections and I kept having to make trips to Middletown (an hour and a half) to see a specialist and to have surgery. It was too expensive to go to school and to make trips to Middletown and back. And it was also hard to keep up with my homework because I needed to be in the classroom. I need to be in the classroom in order for me to learn things. Then my stomach issues started. I couldn’t eat except for really soft stuff. So I had to go see another specialist to find out that I had stomach ulcers. So I decided to drop out of school which was a hard decision because I really enjoyed it and my parents weren’t very happy with me. Which made it even harder. I always wanted to go back but they still haven’t solved my health issues so even if I tried to go back I would probably have to drop out anyways. And I also have a cyst in my cervix which they were supposed to be doing surgery to take it out, but now that I’m having a baby they have to wait and they aren’t sure how it’s going to effect the pregnancy.
FM: Wow. That’s a big bundle of challenges. Were you generally of good health before you left home, when you were younger? Or did it start when you went out on your own?
My health issues mostly started when I was 17 years old. But when I was younger I was always healthy. I hardly ever got sick. But since I was 17, it’s been prescription after prescription after prescription. Which I didn’t really mind when I was in [child welfare] because they helped me pay for that. But now that I turned 21, I have to pay for all of my prescriptions and it’s very hard.
FM: And Jim doesn’t have any health benefits?
No. Which makes it even harder.
FM: Are you eligible for ODSP?
I am in the middle of getting into it. I just got accepted this week, actually. But they’re still in the process of getting everything figured out so I don’t know how long it’s going to take.
FM: But at least you’ll have some relief with drug costs.
Yes. I’m looking forward to that.
FM: You said on you application form that you’d also suffered from depression – when was that?
It started in my first year of college and I still suffer from it. I’m not as bad as I was, that’s for sure. I’m still taking medication for it, though. It’s really depression but it’s mostly a thinking disorder. I make myself depressed because I think about depressed stuff and my head just doesn’t shut up.
FM: Are you seeing anybody, a counselor?
Yes. Once a week.
FM: Can I ask, what kind of counselor? What system provides the counselor? Like, the Health Team or mental health or…
Mental Health, I couldn’t think of the name.
FM: And do you think that’s helping?
Yes and no. it was helping a lot more when I was seeing my older counselor but since he’s moved [away] to take on a different job, my new counselor, she’s just not the same.
FM: How long since the change? Maybe it’s a matter of getting used to her?
It’s been a year but by the time I get used to this one, I’ll have a different one because she’s just a contract.
FM: Kinda like having a new [child welfare] worker every other month? Does it bring back those kinds of memories?
No, not really. It’s just annoying, really.
FM: Yup. And hard to get down to work when you’re not settled in with someone.
FM: Okay, what we haven’t talked about yet is the move from Jim’s parent’s place to this place. Talk about that.
We moved here [5 months ago] because his parents’ place had a lot of drama with his sister, his younger sister. And it was just making me depressed even more. So we started looking for a place and my mom and dad decided that we could move in here because my brother and his wife and kids had moved out. So we decided that we would move here and it kind of works out because the only thing we have to pay is hydro.
FM: I can see how that would be helpful. But what if the house sells, what then?
We will probably be looking at an apartment or we might have to move back into his parents’ place, just for a little while, because it’s going to be hard paying everything. And paying off my school debt and Jim’s debt.
FM: Let’s talk about that a bit. How much debt, school debt, do you have between the two of you?
I owe $24,000 and Jim’s isn’t actually a school debt, his is a credit card debt, and his truck debt. And he owes the government over $24,000.
FM: Just to clarify – owes the government or...
I guess it’s the bank.
FM: Yeah, likely. You’re the one who owes the government.
FM: I don’t know the answer to this – with ODSP, what happens with your school debt? Can you discontinue paying it and does it continue to cost you interest?
I don’t know the answer to that either. But I did have an extension on my debt already and they cancelled the interest for me.
FM: Well, that’s good news, a step in the right direction. Another question: Did [child welfare] help at all with your post-sec expenses?
They paid for my living expenses, for example, the first two years they paid for my residence fee and they gave me $830/month for groceries and phone payments and that kind of stuff.
FM: So how did you rack up the $24,000?
That’s from the loans that the school gives you.
FM: For tuition?
FM: That seems really high, though, like $12,000/yr. Was it that much?
To be honest with you, I ‘m not really sure if it is $24,000. I know that I got $6000 twice a year, twice within the school year.
FM: So that adds up to $12,000 a year. Did you work during the summer? Between school years.
Yes. The first two years I worked at my dad’s [business], and last summer I worked at [a grocery store] in produce.
FM: How was that?
It was good. I like the [grocery store] better than [my dad’s business] just because I didn’t have to work outside in the heat.
FM: How did it pay?
I got minimum wages, $10 something an hour
FM: Full hours?
Yes. 45 hours a week.
FM: And how did you get to and from work? Did you have a car or access to a car?
Yes I had a car. I actually just got my driver’s license that summer. Which took me three tries.
FM: But you got it.
FM: So do you and Jim have two vehicles, his truck and your car?
Yes. For a little while there we just had his truck but my dad bought me a car so that I could drive myself.
FM: Well, I’m sure it was complicated with your shift work at the [grocery store] and his working hours in that business, tends to be a bit unpredictable.
Well we both had a vehicle the year I worked at the [grocery store], but earlier this year we just had his truck and I wasn’t really working but it was really hard when I wanted to go and do something and Jim had his truck at work.
FM: So that’s when your dad got you the car?
FM: Good dad!
Yes, it was very helpful.
FM: And even more so now, with a baby coming. Are you still having to go hither and thither for medical follow-up. Middletown, etc?
Yes. I do but my mom usually takes me to Middletown if I have to go.
FM: Good mom!
FM: From your description, your mom and dad are helpful in lots of ways. What about Jim’s family?
His grandparents are. His parents, they’re pretty good if you ask them but I’d rather ask his dad than his mom because his mom is kinda pretty angry these days, pretty touchy, don’t know what to say to her. But I’m sure if I asked them if they could take me somewhere, they would.
FM: Could they help out with money if, for example, you needed help with first and last to get an apartment? Or to get insurance on the car or the truck, that kind of stuff?
No. They have their own debts.
FM: And we never talked about who else is in that family. Does Jim have brothers and sisters?
Yes, he has two sisters, one younger and one older, and he has a twin brother.
FM: Are they still living at home?
His twin brother and his brother’s girlfriend is. The rest of them have moved out. And his younger sister has two kids and one on the way.
FM: And Jim is your age, so she’s a young mom?
She’s 23. Jim is 25.
FM: Ah, so Jim is older than you by three years. And he took an apprenticeship in carpentry? And did he finish it, has he got his trade ticket?
Yes but he does not have his license yet because he had to get enough hours to put in for the test. But he did pass all his courses and classes and everything.
FM: And when does he think he might have his license? How far until he has the hours he needs?
He’s hoping to have his license by next year. He has enough hours but his boss has to take him on as an apprentice first.
FM: And he doesn’t want to do that because… Then he’d have to pay him more?
No. He is going to take him on as an apprentice. His boss can only go as fast as the school goes.
FM: Okay, so Jim is waiting for the next batch of courses and then he’ll be eligible?
Thing is he’s already done all of his courses but because he had to move to a different boss so he couldn’t write his test because he didn’t have enough hours with the different boss.
FM: I see. Thanks for clarifying – I don’t understand these things in any detail.
FM: Just checking a couple of other things. Have you or Jim ever been involved with the justice system and does Jim have any health issues?
Neither one has been in the justice system. And Jim has no health issues. Which kinda makes me jealous.
FM: Yeah. It’s no fun feeling sick. And doctoring all the time. Do you think that you’ll go back to school or to work after the baby arrives? Not immediately, maybe, but sometime?
Definitely go back to work. School? I’m not sure. I want to but I don’t think I’m going to be able to, just because I need to help out here now that we have our own place. And the way that my doctors are talking, I’m going to be having these problems forever.
FM: That is a very bad piece of news, indeed!
FM: Okay, does that finish your story … up to now?
FM: Okay, a couple other things. Thanks for that story, by the way. To help us understand it correctly – us the group that will be looking at the data – Will you tell us what you think is The Most Important Event in this story. The one thing that most influenced this story. It could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen. What would you say?
I’d say being in foster care.
FM: I didn’t see that one coming, but talk more about that.
What I mean by being in foster care is that I wouldn’t have the life I have if it wasn’t for my foster family. Because if I were still living with my biological parents, I would probably end up being in the justice system. And I certainly would never have met Jim. Or even my mom and dad – they’re amazing people. And I certainly would never have had the opportunities that I have had in my life with the Henry’s.
FM: I see what you mean. I thought you might say getting sick and having to drop out of school, but you’re saying you wouldn’t have been in school if it hadn’t been for the Henry’s.
Right. And the fact that I like to look at the bright side of things. Rather than the bad things that has happened in my life
FM: Okay, more about that or ready to move on to the last bit?
I can do more but I don’t know what you want me to tell you.
FM: Well, let’s do the last couple of bits and maybe that will bring something to mind that you think needs to be added to the story. Plus you can add or subtract or change this story for 7 days from now. So if tomorrow morning you wake up and say, I should have included this or that, get in touch with me and we’ll add to your story. But for now, how’s this: This story, for those that will read it, ends here. But people will wonder how it is going to turn out, they want some closure on the story. So what would you say to them? How do you think your story will ‘turn out’? Well? Not so well? What?
I think it will turn out pretty good. It’s already begun to turn around, well, because first of all I’m happy. I have my own place. And I am truly being gifted by having a baby, which I didn’t think I was going to be able to. So with all of the other events, I think my story will end up pretty good.
FM: Can I ask for clarification – you said you didn’t think you were going to be able to have a baby? What’s that about?
The specialist, my ObGyn, said to me that I wouldn’t be able to carry because of my health issues and the cyst in my cervix, but they aren’t really sure what it really is. And at one point he told me that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. And I have lost three or four babies. This is the first one that I have been able to carry for as long as I have. So I’m looking forward to this baby.
FM: Clarification again. Did you say you were three weeks or three months pregnant?
Three weeks. I will be four weeks this Friday.
FM: Okay, the babies you miscarried before happened very early on?
Yes. I was only three days when I lost the other ones.
FM: Well there may be a bit to go yet. Often women don’t share news that they’re pregnant until they finish the first trimester because the rate of miscarriage is highest during that time. So you may not be out of the woods yet.
I know. But because I have lasted this long, I think I owe it to myself to be looking forward to it because in theory, if you’re healthy and happy, then your baby is going to be happy and healthy. So I’m trying to be optimistic.
FM: Which I heartily support. I didn’t mean to be a downer in any way.
FM: Two more things – one really, with two parts. Advice. I think that people are the best experts on their own lives, so I would like to hear from you; What advice you would give to your younger self which, if your younger self took the advice, would make this, in your opinion, a ‘better’ outlook? What would you tell your younger self?
I don’t understand that.
FM: Is there anything that you think, from here, your age now, that you should have done differently earlier on, that would have made your life better or given you a better chance at a good life? Any regrets, I’m asking, anything you wish or think you should have done differently?
No. because if I didn’t do the things I did when I was younger, or the things that had happened to me when I was younger didn’t happen, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today, that I like.
FM: Thank you. And this might be easier: What advice would you give to the research team about what we should do with what you and the others tell us. What advice would you give to us to either put into practice or pass on to others that would be helpful to other young people like you? What should we do with what you tell us – you and the others?
I think the best advice I can give you guys is to take our stories seriously.
FM: That’s the end, as far as I know. Anything you want to add?