Jane Kovarikova grew up in the Canadian foster care system, remembering "it wasn't a fun experience." Now, as a PhD candidate at Western, Jane is putting her energy back into the system that almost failed her.
Jane is not only a Western University PhD candidate in political science but also the founder of Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada, an advocacy group dedicated to changing the Ontario child welfare system's outcomes.
The project stems from Jane’s personal experiences.
Jane entered the child welfare system at six years old and was made a crown ward at age 12. After being moved around between foster families and high schools, she decided to leave the system at 16 years old. With only $600 a month from the government, she had to build a life for herself.
Her struggles did not stop once she left the system.
Dropping out of high school multiple times, Jane struggled to make ends meet. However, with the help of a mentor she was able to enter community college as a mature student.
“In Ontario, 56 per cent of crown wards drop out of high school,” Jane says. “It’s not because they’re 56 per cent incapable. There’s something else going on there.”
After community college, Jane transferred to Laurentian University and then the London School of Economics. There, she received her master’s degree in human rights and went on to become an electoral observer for the Czech and Canadian governments.
It was her work at Queen's Park that really led to the creation of Child Welfare PAC. While working on a research project, she found that outcomes for youth in the child welfare system had not changed in 40 years.
Her report documented outcomes after youth left the system: homelessness, poverty, jail time, early pregnancy, loneliness and mental and physical health issues were all common. But Jane wondered one key question: how there could be no improvement in four decades?
She recognized that the government was not keeping up with youth once they left the system, and that this lack of data was detrimental to changing issues in the current system.
These experiences led Jane to create the Child Welfare PAC in April — a not-for-profit organization focused on changing the child welfare system with increased expertise, research and advocacy.
“If we’re having the same conversation 40 years from now about the same outcome, then I will have failed,” Jane says. “What do we do? The government is failing to interrupt life outcomes for these youths.”
In a way, her path has come full circle.
“It feels like everything I’ve been working towards across the last 15 years has come together in this one initiative,” Jane says. “All of it has just come together in this one initiative in a way. So, I don’t know what the word is for that but it feels incredible.”
On Oct. 24, Child Welfare Pac held their first Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park. Jane says she wants to make this an annual event and hopes to expand it outside of Ontario into the rest of Canada. The day consisted of a press conference and MPP meetings.
“The people who are like me ... have had to be really brave to identify publicly as someone from care because that comes with a lot of stigma," she said. "It definitely does expose them, and that’s a pretty powerful moment.”