Melanie Doucet

Scholars
2014
Mentor(s): 
Study program:
Joint PhD Social Work
Current affiliation:
McGill University and Université de Montréal
Localisation:

She is analyzing the social and health services that youth receive from the Child Protection System to propose ways to improve them.

My research project

Former youth in state care are a particularly vulnerable population, with reduced life chances for success as adults. The degree and quality of support received during youth’s transition to adulthood have a long-term impact, whether on educational achievements, employability, or overall well-being as adults. Melanie’s research focuses on the experiences of former youth in care during and after their transition to independent living. She is particularly interested in examining risk factors and protective factors that may have altered youth’s experience. In examining protective factors, she will inquire into the types of supports and services that youth received from the State prior to, during, and after their transition out of the child welfare system – services such as independent living training, counseling, and ongoing follow-up. Ultimately, Melanie will examine whether the State lives up to its responsibility as guardian to youth under its care and to youth after they exit the system, and whether the rights of children and youth under State care are respected. Melanie plans to draw on her findings to produce policy recommendations to improve the service delivery system. 

Tell us about your research project and its central idea.

My research will focus on the experience of youth in the foster care and group home systems, both during and after their transition to independent living. I am particularly interested in finding out about the types of support and services youth in care receive from the Child Protection Services prior to, during, and after their transition out of the child protection system, and whether there are significant gaps in services. I’m also interested in examining whether the ministries in charge of child protection services lives up to its responsibility as legal guardian to youth under its care, both during the youths’ time in the foster care system and after their exit. Central to my study is determining whether the rights of children and youth in the foster care system are respected and valued, how support and services can be improved, and how former youth in care view and voice their experiences of being in care and exiting the child protection system.

What led you to choose this research project in particular?

I am a former youth in care myself, so this particular research topic is near and dear to my heart. I have a strong desire to use my past traumas in a productive and useful way to help other children and youth who are suffering in silence. My childhood experience as a youth in care strongly influenced my career aspirations and goals, and I have a tenacious desire to challenge the domain of child welfare policy in Canada in order to address the many issues children and youth in foster care or group homes face on a daily basis. Although many positive changes have occurred in the child welfare system since my time in foster care in the mid-90s, my involvement with the Youth in Care Network has made me realize that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and that children and youth in foster care and group homes are still experiencing significant issues that remain to be addressed.

What is new or surprising about your research?

Youth in foster care and group homes are at a considerable disadvantage compared to their peers, since most of them are required to exit the child protection system between the ages of 16 and 19 due to legislated cut-off ages in service eligibility; most of their peers stay at home well into their 20s. Youth in care also face many unique issues and come from a background of abuse and trauma that can affect their lives on a long-term basis if the right supports, services, and relationships are not established during their time in care. I firmly believe this is a critical social problem in Canada deserving of more attention, especially relating to the crucial transition period out of care, the ministries’ role as a legal guardian, and the rights of children and youth in care. I want the voices of the youth who have lived the experience of being in foster care or group homes to truly shine through my research. Through the recommendations of the youth taking part of my study, I plan to produce a series of policy recommendations to improve the child protection service delivery system.

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings?

First and foremost, my hope is that my research will benefit those children and youth who are placed in foster care or group homes. They have to eventually face the harsh and inevitable reality of being forced out into the real world on their own, often times before they are ready. My hope is that my research will illustrate this reality in a powerful way: through the stories of youth themselves. Through clear policy recommendations, I hope that my research can also help the ministries responsible for child protection services to improve legislation, policies, and services pertaining to children and youth under their care and transform the transition-to-adulthood process into a much more positive and smooth one. I hope that my research will illuminate an issue that is starting to gain traction in Canada, but that still needs to incorporate the youth voice into its reform efforts. I also hope that my research can inform university programs and courses in order to offer the proper tools for social workers in training to be able to provide better support and assistance to youth preparing to transition out of the foster care or group home system and into the real world.

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate?

The power of the youth voice is a force that needs to be incorporated into the policy-making process. I believe the stories of current and former youth in the foster care and group home systems need to be examined, heard, and told within the research community, in government policy discourse, and in Canadian child welfare literature. This is a crucial piece of the policy puzzle that I believe is missing from the equation at the present time: the service delivery system needs to be informed and reformed through current and former client feedback and input. The engagement of current and former youth in care in the policy-making process is also vital to the advancement of child and youth rights issues in Canada, and my hope is that my research encourages government to incorporate youth engagement as a permanent part of the policy decision-making structure within the child welfare realm.

 

Melanie completed her Master in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and her Bachelor in Applied Arts in Criminal Justice at St Thomas University. Prior to pursuing her graduate work, Melanie worked as a Research Assistant at the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy (CRISP) at UNB alongside Dr. Doug Willms, and most recently as a Project Officer for the Government of New Brunswick’s Integrated Service Delivery for Children and Youth project until July 2014. Melanie has also been involved in various youth engagement initiatives during her time in New Brunswick, such as the N.B. Youth in Care Network (NBYICN), and is very passionate about providing youth currently and formerly in care with opportunities to voice their opinions, influence government policies and approaches to service delivery. She was a panelist and presenter at the N.B. Youth in Care Hearings at the provincial legislature on November 29th, 2012 and has been working closely with the N.B. government on child protection services policy reform efforts via the network.

Melanie is a PhD candidate at McGill University’s School of Social Work and a member of the Centre for Research on Children and Families. She teaches a Youth Justice course in the Master's program at the School of Social Work, and is a recipient of SSHRC and Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Doctoral scholarships. In September 2015, Melanie co-founded a peer support group for former youth in care in post-secondary education in Montreal (Montreal Youth in Care Alumni Student Association, MYCASA) and is a member of the Board of Directors of the recently established Quebec youth in care network (C.A.R.E Jeunesse). Melanie is also involved as a youth advisor for the SSHRC-funded Study of Youth Leaving Care in Quebec and France (SYLC). Melanie continuously aspires to become a university professor, a research consultant, an author, a motivational speaker, and a mentor to and advocate for disadvantaged children and youth involved in the child welfare system.

Stemming from her unique experience as a youth in care, Melanie's main research interests are rooted in child and youth issues as they pertain to education, health, environment, poverty, delinquency, prevention, intervention and public policy. For her doctoral research, Melanie will facilitate a collaborative photovoice project with former youth in care in the Greater Vancouver area on supportive long-term relationships for youth 'aging out' of care. The project aims to take a closer look at the types and dimensions of supportive relationships in the lives of young people from care, and how those relationships can be developed and supported over time. The research project also aims to propose specific recommendations relevant to child welfare policies, programs and intervention strategies as well as to the community. Through her research, Melanie aims to add to the existing literature on youth 'aging out' of care and transformational change of child welfare services in Canada.