Growing up as a foster child motivated Ashley to help others in similar situations. She is passionate about improving the lives of kids in government care and wants to be a social worker.

“I aged out of care last July when I turned 19. It was scary but the AYA program gave me a fresh start in life,” says Ashley of the Agreements with Young Adults program. “Going to school is part of my healing process.

“Between family and foster care and emergencies, I had 36 different placements and 19 primary caregivers since birth. Growing up in care and dealing with multiple social workers has made it easier for me to understand what other young people are going through because I’ve lived it.”

Born in Vanderhoof, Ashley is in her first year at the College of Caledonia in Prince George. Her goal is to transfer to the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) after two years to complete the social worker program. As a former youth in care, she qualifies for support under the AYA program, which covers the cost of her education and living expenses.

The program was recently expanded from two to four years of supports and now covers youth who have aged out of care up to the age of 26 instead of 24. That’s good news for Ashley and others pursuing a university degree.

“It’s exciting that it’s been extended so I can finish my entire degree and not have the stress of worrying about living expenses. Without AYA, I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school or afford rent, textbooks, medical costs and other living expenses.”

I was terrified to age out. But I love going to school and I love the program I’m in. It’s so cool because I thought I was going to age out and have no support.”

Ashley believes education is key to changing the lives of kids in care. “Knowledge is power. You can go places if you have an education. You have this incredible opportunity with AYA to gain knowledge. I want every kid in care to utilize AYA.”

Ashley is also in her second year as a member of the Youth Advisory Council, providing advice to the Ministry of Children and Family Development about services for children and youth in care in B.C. Made up of youth who are in care or were previously in care, the Council has helped launch supports like AgedOut.com, a website where former youth in care can learn about services available to help them move into adulthood. The site now has more than 10,000 users.

For Ashley, it’s another opportunity to give back. “The council is a family and I’m proud to be part of it. I enjoyed co-hosting the guardianship forum this year because it’s important for social workers to hear our youth voice.”

Ashley remains determined not to be defined by the challenges she faced as a child and youth growing up in government care.

“I have created an amazing support network for myself and I’d rather use my experience to create change and make a difference. I’m not a victim. I can understand kids in that situation and I can relate to them in ways that can’t be taught in a text book.”

She also has advice for youth growing up in government care. “You’ve just got to hang on because it gets okay, and then it gets easier and then it feels like freedom.”