Story, Narration,Editing, Recording and Audio Compilation by John Dunn
John Dunn, of Ottawa, Ontario is the founder and volunteer executive director of the Foster Care Council of Canada. As a child, John lived in foster care for 16 years, most of which were with his brother Ron Dunn. (Ron has been a bike courier in Toronto for over twenty years!) Both John and his brother were moved 13 times while in foster care. In 1988, when John was 18 years of age, he chose to leave foster care and live on his own. Approximately 13 years later, in 2001 when he contacted the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto to get copies of his own life records, he learned that Children's Aid Societies generally, as a matter of internal policy, do not provide copies of former foster kids' life records to them. John entered into a complaint procedure with the Society and was unsuccessful in getting copies of his records. John's discovery of how Children's Aid Societies treat former foster children is what inspires his activism today. This audio recording will take you on a thirteen minute, virtual subway ride through the life of a foster child.
[00:00:29.01]Hello. I'm John Dunn in Toronto. Welcome to Out Front.
[00:00:32.20] I'm a former crown ward of the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto.
[00:00:37.12]In today's show, I'm going to invite you to, quite literally, join me on the subway ride of a lifetime.
[00:00:45.12]One day, while I was riding the subway, I was suddenly struck by an idea. I guess you could say it was more of a revelation on how my life in foster care was like a subway ride.
[00:01:04.13] You see, the first time you ride the subway, it can be a terrifying experience. You're in a completely alien environment, surrounded by strangers. Flickering lights, loud screeching noises. When you're new to all of this, it's quite scary.
[00:01:20.18]After a while, you become accustomed to it, in effect, you become numb.
[00:01:28.03] Life in foster care is like this. At first, when you're taken away from your family, possibly surrounded by police, ambulance and social workers, then moved into a stranger's house for an unspecified amount of time, you are scared and confused. Once you've been moved through ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen different foster homes, you start to become numb as well.
[00:02:11.22] Subway driver: For your own safety, please stand back of the yellow line and allow the eighteen year old, traumatized former crown wards off the train before boarding. And remember, please do not share your emotions with our dedicated staff as they are trained not to get emotionally involved, which is in the best interests of the child. Thank you for riding and have a nice life.
[00:02:38.16]My life in foster care started when I was about eighteen months old, after my mother had attempted suicide while suffering from a bout of depression. I had two older sisters and an older brother. We were all separated and placed in different homes.
[00:03:13.17] Child's voice: I like playing with my brother. I miss my brother. And in the summer, he's coming over for a visit.
[00:03:25.19] The first home... I'll let... I'll let him tell ya.
Subway driver: This stop, Scarborough Ontario. Where you will remain until you are five years old.
[00:03:34.21] The first memories I have of my life were at this home. I remember the foster mother was a tall, thin lady with greying hair named Mrs. Halowski. I have nothing but warm feelings when I think about her.
[00:03:46.22] While I lived at this house, I learned how to swim underwater for the first time! I remember it clearly. My social worker was there for a visit. It was a crystal clear summer day and I was in the pool out in the back yard. I dipped my head under water for a whole two seconds!
[00:04:01.29] I flung my head out of the water, standing up, clapping wildly for approval. I was so proud of my self. The next memory I have at this home, happens to be my last day there.
[00:04:12.13] I was playing with my little tractor on the front steps of the house, the hot sun shining down warming my skin, the small Volkswagen Beatle pulled up to the front of the house. Out popped my brother who came up to greet me. I remember seeing my little brown, hard shelled suitcase come out of the front of the house.
[00:04:29.13] And then, the next thing I remember, is looking out the back window of the Volkswagen Bug, and watching my home slowly dissappear behind me. I looked over at my brother and he was crying. We were being moved to a new home.
[00:05:05.08] Next stop. Trout Creek, Ontario. A small town near North Bay, where you will live until you are nine years old.
[00:05:12.29] This home was out in the country on a long gravel road. There was a mother/father type setting and my brother and I were to be adopted by these two, but things turned sour. I have both good and bad memories of living at this home.
[00:05:25.29] The good memories are almost always when I was alone with my brother, Ronny. We would ride our bikes together, catch fireflies in bottles to light up our tent at night, and go on long walks in the forest.
[00:05:35.28] We had a little place in the forest we used to call , "The Clearing". It was a patch of rock about ten feet in diameter and we used to go there when we felt we need to get away, forget who we were, and just be.
[00:05:51.17] The darker memories I have, were when we were taught how to kill the rabbits we had by holding them up by their hind legs and slitting their throats, bleeding them, then skinning them. If this wasn't disturbing enough, I was also a bed wetter.
[00:06:05.11] As punishment for waking up with wet sheets, I would be taken downstairs by the father and sat repeatedly on the surface of the wood burning stove, to the point where I could hear my pyjamas sizzle from the heat. One day, he decided to really scare me and opened the front door of the stove, which looked like a cast iron barrel on its side.
[00:06:25.10] Then held me horizontally and pushed me head first into the burning coals. I screamed and begged him to stop, all the while promising to never wet the bed again. Along with these things happening to me, I also remember watching my brother's tortures.
[00:06:41.26] The worst being when he was slammed into the fridge, and dragged downstairs by his hair to recieve a good "behaviour modification beating" in the basement.
[00:06:52.22] All I could do is stand upstairs and listen. One day when I was about eight or nine, my brother had a plan to run away.
[00:07:17.15] I remember the parents being asleep and us sneaking into their bedroom to get our allowance jars. We then headed out along Highway 11.
[00:07:43.09] Again, we were alone. Just the two of us and my Kermit the frog, of course, (Kermit:) "Greetings. Kermit the Frog here. Today I'd like to tell you a little bit about the colour green."
[00:07:52.23] I remember how free I felt knowing I was safe with my brother who would do anything to protect me. That evening, we were picked up by a police officer. My brother tried to beg the officer not to take us back, but he had a job to do.
[00:08:08.01] One day, when I was at school, I remember being called down to the office, only to see my social worker talking to the principal. And that's all I remember. Once again, we were moving to a new house.
[00:08:24.16] Subway driver: Next stop, Calendar, Ontario - an emergency home just south of North Bay, where you will stay until they find you another house.
[00:08:33.25] We were living with a nice family named the Ratts for a few months, went to school, and just tried to adapt. I met a nice girl who became my first girlfriend. Her name was Shannon.
[00:08:44.13] My first real kiss. And of course, my brother caught me and teased me forever about it. Then again, one day at school, I got the call. I remember, at the time, being in a special ed class, and the teacher gave me a huge hug and told me how much she was going to miss me and that I was a very special boy.
[00:09:03.09] She must've known I was moving again because she didn't want to let me go. This was the first time I remember getting a real hug from an adult and feeling like the person really cared.
[00:09:12.21] I then got into the car, beside my brother, and as we headed out, I felt a sudden panic as I thought about my new friend David, who I knew I'd never see again.
[00:09:22.16] I started to cry quietly so the social worker wouldn't hear me, and we were off.
[00:09:33.02] Subway driver: Next stop, Scarborough, Ontario. Where you will live until thirteen years of age.
[00:09:39.05] My brother and I were now living in a nice family named the LeBrettons. While we lived there, we finally had the chance to be reunited with our real mother and two sisters. I was ten when I met them. We all got along great and continued to have regular visits. When I turned thirteen, the courts decided that we could try and live with our natural mother for a six month trial.
[00:10:00.00] Unfortunately, she was used to living alone by this time and after only three months, she suffered a break down and was fighting with my brother over something or other. Then all I remember is seeing the police and we were gone.
[00:10:17.29] I ended up with my sister, Linda, for a while, then was moved back with the LeBrettons. Only this time, my brother wasn't with me. For the first time I can remember, I was completely alone.
[00:10:30.24] My brother, who had been my whole family and protector was gone.
[00:10:48.29] Subway driver: Next Stop, Picton Ontario, where you will live until you are seventeen years old.
[00:10:56.09] This home was arguably, the worst home I'd ever lived. It was a family-style group home with a power hungry father figure.
[00:11:13.08] All of us were abused in this home for the four years I lived there. Finally, word got out to the CCAS and we were taken away. Over the next year, I would move through another four homes and then have the choice to stay in care for the extended care program, or go free at eighteen years old. As you can imagine, I chose to go free - To be the only one in control of when I would move or lose friends.
[00:11:43.03] In 1991, when I was twenty, I met my brother again by chance, downtown Toronto, after almost nine years. We've kept in touch and he's been a bike courier since the early eighties. He has a serious drinking and drug problem and doesn't like to talk about our past.
[00:11:57.09] He's depressed and sometimes suicidal, but I still love him more than anything in the whole world.
[00:12:18.21] In October of 1998, after years of failed attempts, my mother successfully joined her best friend in heaven.
(Audio documentary produced in 2002 for CBC Radio Outfront and received Listeners Favourite Award. Recorded and edited by John Dunn)