Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) All My Relations: Examining Nonhuman Relationships As Sources of Social Capital for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Care Leavers in Canada (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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68P (WITHDRAWN) All My Relations: Examining Nonhuman Relationships As Sources of Social Capital for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Care Leavers in Canada

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Doucet, MIDST, PhD Candidate, Trudeau Foundation Scholar, SSHRC Doctoral Fellow and Sessional Instructor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Background and Purpose: Provincial legislation across Canada mandates child welfare agencies to release youth from their care at the age of majority. Consequently, youth exiting care tend to have social capital deficits due to limited support networks, which are mostly comprised of formal and short-term institutional connections. In addition, the traditional nuclear family-focused social capital framework must be adapted to the realities of care leavers, who tend to lack stable familial relationships. There is a gap in research examining long-term supportive relationships situated outside the traditional familial context, from the perspectives of youth who have 'aged out' of care. This includes relationships to culture, spirituality, the land and animal companions, which have been shown in the literature as key sources of social capital for marginalized youth. This paper focuses on key nonhuman relationships that youth co-researchers identified as meaningful in their lives.

Methods: This Participatory Action Research (PAR) photovoice project involved 8 former youth in care between the ages 19 to 29 in Vancouver, B.C. over the course of 12 weeks. A collaborative thematic analysis of the photographs was conducted with the youth co-researchers, and the lead researcher executed additional analysis following the data collection phase.

Results: Relationships to culture, spirituality and the land were identified as important by racialized and Indigenous youth co-researchers. Animal companions also emerged as an important non-human connection. Key barriers included a lack of culturally matched foster placements and social workers, gentrification, housing restrictions and a narrow definition of family relationships. Key strengthening factors included supportive community organizations and culturally competent workers.

Conclusions and Implications: There is a well-known Indigenous phrase, "all my relations", that emphasizes the interconnectedness of human beings to the universe. This Indigenous philosophy can also be applied to the relational needs of all youth 'aging out' of care. Findings of this study highlight the need for child welfare policies, decision-making and practices to invest in all the relations of youth in care - including to the spiritual, cultural, earth and animal worlds - and ensure their continuity during the transition to adulthood. The connections that are located outside of the traditional social capital framework, including non-human relationships, also need to be valued as viable and crucial sources of social capital for care leavers. By doing so, youth exiting care have a better chance at accumulating social capital and building a support network they can rely on during their transition to adulthood.