Tara is 18 years old and was born in Canada. At the time her son was 3 months old. He was her second child but she was parenting for the first time. According to staff, her first child was taken from her by Children’s Aid Society (CAS) because Tara was considered to be an at-risk mother. She was very young, poorly educated, had struggled with the law and had been abused by a stepfather and by a previous boyfriend. She has a grade 8 education and has been on social assistance. She admitted that she was not ready to be a parent the first time – she was 16 when her first child was born. When we interviewed Tara, she was on the waiting list for Youville Centre, a high school for young mothers, and hoped to complete her secondary education. She had just moved into a new apartment and had recently met a new boyfriend, who according to staff, appears to be mature and a good influence.
Tara was staying at a women’s shelter when she first learned about the prenatal nutrition program. She was referred by staff at the shelter who felt she would benefit by the support the program could offer. She told us she was really afraid at first because she didn’t know anything about caring for herself during her pregnancy or about caring for a baby. As she said in her own words,
“I needed to learn a lot of things. Before I came here I didn’t know how to take care of a baby – I didn’t know how to bath a baby, change the baby or feed the baby.”
In terms of getting to the program, Tara told us the bus tickets really helped. Many of the women live quite close to the location where their group is held, but for Tara this was not the case. Tara is very appreciative of the fresh food and milk she obtains from the program. She felt that without the program, she and her young son would starve. They also use the food bank to help get by, but the food bank cannot provide the fresh food she and her baby need.
Tara told us that that the program has made her a better mom. She told us about her experiences with her first child and how the baby was taken into foster care because she “didn’t know anything”. She didn’t realize how much time a baby would take. Now she is coming to weekly meetings and learning how to be a good parent. She told us she used to get frustrated but then she was taught techniques at the program such as baby massage, how to soothe her baby when he cried and other ways to handle her child (through the videos).
One of the best things about coming to the program, Tara told us, was being able to talk to other mothers and get their advice. It was through the program and the weekly meetings that she met and became close friends with Lena. They now get together on their own time. Lena is not only a friend to Tara but also a role model. According to Tara, Lena would reassure her throughout her pregnancy. Tara had a difficult pregnancy, experienced a lot of illness and was very frightened that things were not right. Lena, who had three children, helped to support Tara during and after her pregnancy.
An important related piece of information about Tara’s story is that up to the time she began the program, CAS had a supervisory order in her file. This order was removed after she enrolled and attended the program. This is a strong testimonial about the positive impact the program has made on Tara’s life.
Kyle grew up in Montreal with a single mother. While he was living on the street, he met Brenda, his partner, who had also run away from her parents. It was when Brenda got pregnant at age 16 that they first found out about Brighter Futures and St. Mary’s Home. Brenda’s family lived in Ottawa so the young couple decided to take their chances and moved in with Brenda’s mom. Brenda’s mom had heard about Buns in the Oven and told Brenda to contact the program.
It was while Brenda was going to Buns in the Oven that she heard about the Young Fathers Program. She encouraged Kyle to attend. At first Kyle was reluctant because he was extremely shy. But after attending for a few weeks, he found he was really enjoying the program and was “able to interact with other dads”. He said that every week he would meet four or five people that he knew. After a while, he felt much more confident and was not so shy to give his opinion.
Kyle said that coming to the program also motivated him to get a better job. He was doing sporadic work for a moving company. He started to apply to other places and eventually found a job at a large electronics store in the shipping department. He and Brenda decided they could move into an apartment on their own with their son.
Brenda decided to return to school and finish her high school credits. When she was at school, Kyle took Jamie to the Brighter Futures parenting workshops at the Outreach Centre whenever he could. Kyle thinks he “would not be the person he is now if it wasn’t for the programs”. He has made a lot of friends and can take good care of his son. He said his self-confidence has also increased significantly. “I could not talk to people before”. Now he speaks up when asked and also volunteers answers. Kyle ended the interview by saying he feels that he would likely be dead by now if he had not gotten away from the streets. He credited Brenda and the baby with that, but added that without Brighter Futures and St. Mary’s, he and Brenda would not be the responsible and caring parents they are today.