Life has come full circle for Jordanna Southall, who graduated in June from Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program.
One of the first students to enroll at VIU under the Youth in Care Tuition Waiver program nearly two years ago, Southall has secured a job as a child protection officer with the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Campbell River.
“I am really lucky to be able to stay on Vancouver Island,” she said, adding that it was fortuitous the ministry was hiring 100 new positions in B.C. at the time she graduated.
The 22-year-old lifelong Vancouver Island resident will bring the perspective of personal experience to her job working with children and youth. She entered B.C.’s care system at age four and lived with the same foster family until she aged out of the care system at 19.
Along the way, particularly in a few turbulent teen years before she decided to pursue post-secondary education, she appreciated the support of her social workers.
“They were pretty amazing, probably the number one reason I’m successful,” she says, adding she had the benefit of both a caring and supportive foster family along with connection to her biological family just 10 minutes away as she grew up in Parksville.
“When I became a teenager I ended up getting an awesome social worker,” Southall said. “She was really supportive and would follow through with what she said she’d do. I think she was just really good at connecting with me at that age.”
After a few “difficult” years in Grades 9 and 10, she decided in Grade 12 to pursue post-secondary and study social work. She began to work hard at her studies and in homeschooling, to catch up on marks needed for university entrance.
“I just pulled it all together, it was a mindset change,” she says. “Until then I think I was just testing people a little bit.”
Beginning her studies in psychology at the University of Victoria followed by a year in UVic’s Social Work program, she transferred to VIU when she learned about the Youth in Care Tuition Waiver.
“It gave me that final bit of motivation to get through school, realizing that so many people wanted me to succeed,” she says.
Southall says everything she’s been working towards with her degree program, in 350 hours of practicum experience in two different ministry offices, and in volunteer positions has helped prepare her to take on the new role. Practicums in ministry offices in Duncan and North Saanich helped her gain valuable experience and clarify her choice of a career in child protection.
“In the beginning I was worried that something would come up for me, given my personal experience, so I was a little bit hesitant,” she says. “Then closer to the end of my practicum I was doing interviews on my own, and being supervised instead of watching.”
While pursuing her degree, she also gained experience with two children with disabilities under age 12, working as a respite worker, behaviour interventionist and math tutor.
As she starts her new role in Campbell River, Southall is also looking forward to another new opportunity — a part-time role as an appointee to a youth advisory council under the Ministry.
“We meet and discuss making changes to better lives of other youth and children in care,” she says.
While she’s excited to start her career after five years of university, Southall says she’ll likely pursue a master’s degree one day and continue upgrading in any area she feels will help her in her role.
“It’s going to be nice to have a schedule and do what I’ve spent the last five years working for,” she says. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”