Episode 3


In this episode, youth rights advocate Maya Lebrun shares the importance of respecting and centering youth survivor voices in gender-based violence work to better support survivors and their wellbeing.

Maya provides helpful strategies and tools to provide opportunities for youth to speak up, share their feedback, voice their concerns, and share their stories in a way that feels right for them. She also discusses how to balance concerns around re-traumatizing youth survivors who share their stories while respecting their agency, autonomy, and rights.

Lastly, Maya offers alternate ways to center survivor voices in GBV work that does not require survivors to disclose their personal stories but that can lead to transformative change, and shares her hope for the future with respect to youth rights and strengthening supports.

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Maya-Lebrun.pngMaya Lebrun has been advocating for children’s rights within the Canadian family justice system for the past 4 years, starting when she was only 16. She has had the privilege of speaking at provincial and supreme court judges’ conferences, sharing at multiple Continuing Legal Education conferences, representing BC in UNICEF’s Child Safe Cities Summit, and having published in BarTalk. She just completed her term as a board member for Mediate BC and has signed on to the Youth Advisory Team for a research project looking to reduce youth sexual violence. Maya is currently obtaining her bachelor's in law and works as a children’s coordinator at her church.


Linda-Baker.pngDr. Linda Baker is a Psychologist, Assistant Professor – Standing Appointment, and the former Learning Director of the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC) at Western University. During her time with CREVAWC, Dr. Baker led the Learning Network and the Knowledge Hub. The Learning Network translates knowledge on the continuum of gender-based violence and the Knowledge Hub facilitates a trauma- and violence-informed community of practice with Canadian researchers and practitioners conducting innovative intervention research. She has over 25 years of experience in the mental health and justice systems, working with and learning from children, youth and families dealing with experiences of violence and trauma. Her direct service experience inspires and informs her research and commitment to knowledge translation through resource development and publications, knowledge exchange activities, and workshop presentations. Dr. Baker has co-authored numerous publications/resources related to intimate partner violence exposed children and families, including Walk Proud, Dance Proud: Footprints on a Healing Journey; Helping Children Thrive: Supporting Woman Abuse Survivors as Mothers; and Helping an Abused Woman: 101 things to Know, Say and Do. Her most recent work focuses on the application of intersectionality to research with and services for children exposed to IPV and the evaluation of IPV training programs. Prior to her current roles, Dr. Baker was the Director of the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System (London Family Court Clinic). She participates regularly on faculty teams delivering Domestic Violence Institutes throughout the United States for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Futures Without Violence.



00:00:15:19 – Linda

Hello and welcome to today's episode of the podcast, Little Eyes, Little Ears: Centering Children and Youth in Gender-Based Violence Work. This podcast is from the Learning Network at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University. The purpose of this podcast is to enhance work to support children and youth in contexts of intimate partner violence.

00:00:46:22 - Linda

I'm Dr. Linda Baker and I'm pleased to host today's episode with our amazing guest, Maya Lebrun. Maya has been advocating for children's rights within the Canadian family justice system for the past four years, starting when she was only 16. She has had the privilege of speaking at provincial and Supreme Court judges’ conferences, sharing at multiple Continuing Legal Education conferences, representing B.C. in UNICEF’s Child Safe Cities Summit, and having published in BarTalk. She just completed her term as a board member for Mediate B.C. and has signed on to the Youth Advisory Team for a research project looking to reduce youth sexual violence.

00:01:36:04 - Linda

Maya is currently obtaining her bachelor’s in law and works as a children's coordinator at her church. Maya, it's hard to imagine that somebody as young as you has done all of these things. And we're so pleased to have you with us today. And I wonder, if you'll just start by telling us a little more about yourself.

00:02:00:04 – Maya

Thank you.  Thank you for having me.

A little bit more about me. I'm a sister. I have two younger sisters. I'm a daughter. I’m a cat mom. I do a lot of work with youth in the summers, especially working at camps.

Beyond that, I'm a student and, you know, trying out online school and things like that. So, yeah, it's a little bit about me.

00:02:21:07 – Linda

Maya, one of the things that we're really interested in is, we know that in terms of gender-based violence work, that there's a long tradition and commitment to valuing survivor voices. And we wanted to ask you, how can we make the inclusion of child and youth survivor voices in services and support a reality?

So to go beyond having it as a value or an aspiration, but really make it happen?

00:02:58:03 – Maya

I think involving kids in what you're doing in your projects, I think there's two sides. If you're asking about how do services for people, survivors of gender-based violence or kids in the legal system, like how to service them and have them at the center is one thing.

And then also how to just help the general public and just how to help kids in the legal system and how to help kids who are out of it and wanting to help frame the way that we do the legal system and services.

I think as far as reaching kids and having them be involved and getting that audience and also finding kids that want to be a part of your work is just having greater advertising for it, I think is a big thing.

I think having a social media presence is really important and also going to places where kids are. So, whether that's doing assemblies at schools, going into classes, putting posters up in schools, putting them in community centers, in sports team rec centers, going to coffee shops and restaurants that are right around high schools and putting up your materials. That's all places that kids are.

00:04:13:08 – Maya

And they're going to see things. They're not going to see things that are just not in their area or just in a courthouse, just in a government agency. Like they're just not, they're not there. They don't see those. Even just a lot of like the children's legal offices, like we have one in Vancouver and putting things up there, that's where kids will see them.

So, I think making sure that you're marketing to the right audience is really, really big for having kids want to come and know about it and partake. Adding honorariums to just honor their time and be a motivating factor for change is a really big thing. Even just food. If you can’t afford to do an honorarium, if you feed a kid, they will come. So yeah.

00:04:59:20 – Linda

Those are great ideas. It's interesting because I think you're right. A lot of times, the services that may be really wanting to involve youth, children and youth, they may do it through their typical portals, so to speak. So, they may do it in terms of their own website and put a call out on that, but children and youth may not be accessing or even know about that website.

00:05:26:24 - Maya

No, and honestly, like if you're going to do that, that's fine. But make yourself really easily, like Google-able, searchable. Make yourself really easy to find. So, if a kid’s going, I don't know for, you know, if they want a children’s lawyer, child lawyer Vancouver, like be so easy to find that they can find you.

And then also just making yourself available to kids in remote communities that maybe don't have a like complete Internet access or just different things. I think those kids get locked out a lot and they're really important in having a voice and being part of the changes happening.

00:06:07:24 - Linda

And do you have specific ideas for how we make sure that youth that are in more remote areas aren't left out from opportunity?

00:06:20:08 - Maya

Well, I've heard about from across different research projects they did and surveying had to look very different than just an online survey that they can send to most urban kids. I think it would look like sending someone from your teen into one of these communities and physically being there and seeing that as an opportunity, how can I set you up?

What materials do you need, resources to share to be a part of this? And set that up in that community so set that up with those kids and then you're going to have an ongoing relationship, whether it is a letter-based system, then we'll get, you know, if it's okay, maybe we can get you a computer or maybe we can set up Wi-Fi in your house, like whatever, whatever it is.

00:07:01:19 - Maya

Do you go, okay, I want to make sure that your voice gets to be a part of this and that your community gets to be a part of this. And so, there's not just one. You know, urban kids are amazing. I'm an urban kid but making sure that everybody's a part of it. You know.

00:07:15:19 - Linda

You know, I was also interested in, as you were describing these, do you have any suggestions or insights on, it's one thing to reach young people and they know that there's an opportunity to have a voice and to participate. But how should we go about making sure that that's meaningful, that it's not just a taking from you, but that it's a two way, they're benefiting from the experience and obviously the program or the project, the service, is also benefiting from their input.

00:07:54:06 - Maya

Well, I think on our side of it, we're pretty simple. It's really nice to get paid. And just show that our time was valued and that will, that just shows that the people that are doing it are getting paid to be there. And so, we're also honoring the youth for that. Okay. They're getting paid an honorarium. What you're sharing matters and I think sending them materials of what their contribution did or what it contributed to is really important. So, follow up and, you know, being understanding of their schedules is really great and understand, okay, you go to school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. how can we make this accessible to you as well?

And kind of think outside of just our 9 to 5 realm. And I think just making sure that the staff that are working with the kids are trauma informed because if you're asking survivors then they're going to have a lot of, you know, triggers and different things that just need maybe extra support, but also just having someone that's used to working with kids is important because I think there's a lot of incredible people in the system that want to do great work but maybe don't know how to relate to kids.

And that can be really hard and create a barrier, especially for younger teens or younger kids that want to share but aren’t given the right support. I think a lot of kids that go through the family justice system are already parentified, so maybe requiring them just continue to be the adult, make sure that their needs are being met.

We can all do that. But it'd be nice if there were just enough support to do it too.

00:09:36:13 - Linda

I'm really glad that you gave an example of a barrier. And I think there's probably other barriers that can really get in the way. What kind of barriers, other than people maybe not feeling comfortable or knowing how to engage youth or how to interact with youth in the most supportive way, what other kinds of barriers do you see, in terms of barriers to children in having a voice in a meaningful way?

00:10:07:04 - Maya

If I've done anything in the last year is go to a lot of meetings and those are great and super effective. And I think I've seen them done really well and really progressed over the past four years. So, I think what I've seen is, at first I feel like I was one of the very few youth that would be in a group and now it's becoming I mean, I'm going to a conference in two weeks and I think like there are like 64, 70 of the participants are kids and youth and survivors. So before it was like one or two of us, and now it's 60, 70. So making space, really making space at your table for a youth. And you know, you don’t have to invite any kid like we're not asking just any, you know, any person who maybe has no thoughts on something to come.

But if you find a youth or a child that has something to say and can meaningfully participate and contribute, making sure that there's a spot for them. I know one issue that was happening like a few years ago in some meetings I was in where the youth that were there would, you know, by no one's fault, just become the designated note takers for what was going on.

00:11:22:03 - Maya

And that just wasn't very good. And no one had ill intention. It would just be, okay, we're doing this over Zoom or something or with Menti and, you know, the youth would know how to run it maybe a little bit better than some of the other participants, but then they would just be like the note takers, apart from being, you know, not being able to participate as much because of that.

So, I think making sure that it's very clear that the kids are not there to take notes or to be tech support, but to participate, you know.

00:11:52:03 - Linda

Exactly. It really brings meaning to what we mean by child and youth survivor voices. And it's not being an extra pair of hands and it is what it is. But you've seen some progress in that area. There's less of that that's happening now. Yeah. Okay.

And Maya, do you think that's in part because of feedback from youth.

00:12:29:11 - Maya

Yeah. So, I do a lot of work with Youth Voices and how and I mean, that's where I really started and have branched off in a lot of different directions from that. But one thing that I really value is after, say, a conference, there will be a meeting and just going over, you know, what went well, what didn't go well, and then having the coordinator, Kari Boyle, I don’t know if you know Kari Boyle, but she coordinates that or then going to whatever conference that we spoke at and just making sure that they know our feedback are reshaping and redoing and it's like definitely not a condemnation way of like, my gosh, these kids like, like, no, it's all good. It's just fine-tuning different parts of everybody wanting to do a good thing and just how to do the best, right?

00:13:13:05 - Linda

So, it really is like anything else. There's a learning process to it and you're doing work, it sounds like Maya, to make sure it's not just an event, that it is a process and that we're all building capacity in terms of how to better support youth voices in our events and projects. And that feedback becomes critical for that.

00:13:38:08 - Maya

Yeah, honestly, I feel like I don't know how much I've done in that sphere of being able to shape the culture of it. But I think the leaders that I've seen do it, that I've gotten to work with, like Kari Boyle, Jane Morley in everything she does and the Society for Children and Youth of B.C. are like three people in one group that just really have been, I don't know, pioneering a lot of things, I think, in really how to build a really safe and inclusive area for kids to participate in the legal system and the transforming of the legal system.

00:14:13:18 - Linda

You mentioned that you would hope that people that were supporting children and youth, that they use a trauma-informed approach. And whether that's within the justice system, whether that's a conference that's being held, whatever, or wherever and whatever is being done, are there other approaches or things that you would want people to consider? You've mentioned some really important ones, honoring people's time and wherever possible, that being an honorarium, food, supports, being inclusive, finding ways to make it work with a young person's schedule, where they live, there's difficulties accessing the internet. Are there other things in terms of really supporting child and youth voices that people could do?

00:15:22:06 - Maya

I think I had a lot of it around the services. I think we're moving away from tokenism. It is having your token kid that's like your poster child. I think that's fine. But as long as it doesn't just stay there, you know, where it's moving into participation, not just this. And I would agree that with of wanting to move away from this. Is there a story? Please feel bad for them and then that be it for them.

But going like, this is their story, what can we draw from this? How can we work with this youth if they if they want to create change, to advise change, to be part of the process. So, it's not just we heard from you once, thank you so much, and then moving on and not changing their practice.

But I fully believe in storytelling. I think it's a really beautiful way that you can create a lot of change. I just think pairing that with action with the youth is also really cool. Yeah, yeah, just a lot of inclusivity, a lot of going to where these kids are, including them and you don't again, you don't have to take every teenager off like that you find.

But if you see someone, you're like, I want to champion you and I want to get behind you and help. You know, if I want to see what your vision for my service is, I want it if they have an experience with it, you know, and I feel like I've had a lot of beautiful people in my life do that for me.

And it's led to a lot of amazing things. So, I mean, being in this podcast is the product of a lot of people in my life championing me, whether it's just people that work in the service side of this, whether it's my step-mom who's been a huge support, my sisters, my parents. But I think support can do a lot of crazy things.

00:17:08:18 - Linda

I think that sometimes, you talk about the importance of telling one story and you also talk about the importance of going beyond. And I guess one of the tensions that I think exists in the field is balancing concerns about reharming or retraumatizing a child or a youth who's sharing their story of survival while respecting their agency and rights.

And so it can really become, it's almost like the tension between wanting to protect and recognizing agency and respecting agency. Could you speak to that?

00:17:54:22 - Maya

I think if a kid wants to talk to you and wants to be a part of what you're doing, then they know what their capacity is. And if someone doesn't want it, they won’t, as long as you're not being forced by a parent. But if they're making the choice, it’s pretty obvious to tell if it's their choice or through force, then I think they know the risk and there's not really huge risk.

I think sometimes, once you’re going through it as a kid, going through starting to be a part of the change, then you can just be like, okay, well, you know, sharing my story that way felt good. Maybe that was actually too much information that was a little hard on myself.

I think if a youth or a kid is wanting to take part in this, in your service and in helping shape and change and share their story, then they know going into that what's going to be required of them. And they can make an informed decision.

And I think making sure that they have supports in place for them and just checking in. And also just letting them know like, hey, you're going to share, if they're young, just hey, you're going to share your story, it may make some feelings come out for you later, here are some supports for you. Please make sure that you take care of yourself, that you're not like sharing it and going straight to school after, but just reminding them or reminding their parents or whatever of, you know, please take care of yourself after this.

00:19:41:03 - Maya

Like, what you just did was really important and also could bring out some things for you. But beyond that, I think as long as you're making clear what your expectations are, then a kid knows this is something I want to do, this is something I don’t want to do and they can make an informed decision. I mean, honestly, with the way that we're doing this right now is quite transferable that anyone could take, you didn’t ask me to share my story, I’d be happy too but that’s just not really what this is.

And so you're just asking me questions and I’m giving you feedback, and nothing about this would ever be traumatizing, at least for me.

00:19:56:07 - Linda

I think that we have begun to do a better job of bringing supports on the day of. But I really don't want to lose your point about, it may be later that the impact of having shared that story, that it's great that there's supports there and that there is sort of a wrap-around child or youth if they are open to that the day of, but you were talking about the follow-up.

And do people, would you advise people to help ensure that the youth has a support system? Should there be or is there an onus on the host or the coordinator to do that check in and follow up if it's agreed ahead, if the youth is open to that?

00:21:09:19 - Maya

If it's something that, you know, you want to bring up beforehand, like, hey, would this be helpful to you? And then they get to decide on that. I think each individual kid's going to be different. For me personally, I don't think I need someone to check in with me after to make sure that I’m actually okay, because I am and I will be. There may be for some kids, that's going to be really helpful and just making sure that kids are safe.

So yeah, I think giving them the option. Yeah, I think also encouraging your youth and your kids after they've done something with you to share, to be a part of, making sure that they know that, like thank you for doing this and then it’s alot having feedback. If anybody sends in feedback of kids at a conference and sharing what was in the chat afterwards is so, so encouraging for youth and encouraging for kids and wanting them to do more of it.

00:21:57:19 - Linda

When you think about youth rights, children and youth rights, you know, it was, I think, in 1989 that the UN Convention on the Rights of Children was penned. Where have we come with that and maybe start with the legal system because you've been so involved. I mean, I think that we, at some points, were almost actively trying to keep children out of the system. We were thinking and out of, we thought we were doing the right thing. I think there was a good intent, but we've learned that that wasn't. And in fact, that's denying rights. And what progress has been made do you think? What difference is even in your time span have you seen and that would be really helpful.

00:22:48:01 -Maya

I think children's rights have greatly progressed since then. That is such an incredible piece of legal text that we have or legislature. But well, I mean, we have children's lawyers now and we have them in a solicitor-client model, which is so important.

00:23:11:03 - Linda

Why is that important, Maya? Why is that so important, that it's the solicitor-client model?

00:23:15:44 - Maya

Okay, well, there's different models to having a children's lawyer. This one. Solicitor-client, basically, it's the same as if you went to a lawyer, your relationship with your lawyer in the way that you direct them would be the exact same style but with the child.

So, the lawyer isn't making decisions for the child. It is not, they are not choosing this is what's best for you and I'm going to advocate for that, which, you know, that could be helpful if the child is very young, like three, two, three, four, one. And if there's parents that, you know, just really can't, you know, it's just having a watchdog basically make sure that the kid's needs are being put first.

But once a kid is, you know, able to make decisions and direct a lawyer and, you know, the lawyers obviously gauge that with each kid to make sure that they can delegate and give direction, then I think it's important that they have this model because I think it could be more dangerous if, say, a 15 year old is having someone else, again, continue to put their narrative on their story and be presenting that to a judge and that having so much weight.

00:24:32:11 - Maya

Yes. I mean, that's why I think it's important, I think, for the kids, the ability to share what's going on in their lives for them and have the judge have direct access to the kids, not through just a psychology report, not just a social worker’s summary of what happened in their life and if it's valid or not. But this is what's going on. Kids like from high conflict to low conflict. I think it's important.

Yeah. Other ways that I mean, there's so many changes. I mean in the way that we involve youth in the change that's going on has changed in the last at least four years. And, it was, it started way before me and before this four-year thing.

So, seeing that be part of it, having a greater emphasis in general of supporting, supporting youth, supporting children's rights, making that an actual big deal, the kids moving from a place of kids being property to kids being their own person, their own experience or life matters. I mean, in general, we've just come a long way in rights and values in humans of all shapes and sizes and forms and whatever. So yeah.

00:25:41:40 - Linda

It’s been transformational. But I also am hearing from you, there's, it's great the progress that's been made, but we still got a ways to go.

00:25:53:20 - Maya

 And yeah, I think I mean, for me, I think the basic things that we need to change is especially how we interview children, how we within the system itself, how we protect kids, I think is very messy. And where there's a lot of issues for the most part.

00:26:10:18 - Linda

Can you talk a little bit more about that, how we protect kids? Are you talking in terms of child protection services, in that sense? Or just generally our desire to protect kids and how that can go amiss?

00:26:28:05 - Maya

There are so many parts to that. I mean, a buzz one that's going on right now is how do we protect kids online because we're seeing the repercussions, I mean, the Internet is not an evil place, but there's a lot of dark spots on it that kids are exposed to and causes a lot of pain and causes a lot of issues into how to protect them on there is a really big question that I think people are trying to grapple with.

I think in the legal system itself, the way that we interview children, I think is very problematic and not safe. I don't have the solution right now of what we see as how to fully make a new way to do that. But I think that the way that, you know, having safety and safety is great.

They do a lot of great things. Of course, there are critiques of whether they do things. I don't have the answer, but I think especially in, you know, how they go to people's houses where the abuser is and the interview the child, even as a parent is out of the house, like it just is not safe or really promoting the kid, wanting to tell the truth.

00:27:37:07 - Maya

I think too, yes, neither parent knows what the kid says right away but when a report comes out, we don't have very many safeguards for the kid. Once a parent, the abusive parent knows what was shared, the kid is just left with that. I think there's a lot of danger in that and I know I've seen that in my own family story.

I mean, not all kids get access to a lawyer because it's not a right that every kid has. So, I think I would love to see a change in our laws around that where it's not just, okay, if you have the worst situation, then you can have a lawyer. Or if the judge says it's okay, because I think that leaves a lot of kids out.

00:28:28:04 - Linda

Or, if you just happen to be in a jurisdiction where they're available and some do exactly not regardless of what's going on in that child's life.

00:28:40:20 - Maya

 I think too, like really, I'm not an advocate for reunification camps and forced reunification therapy. I think those are very detrimental and so backwards. I understand the heart in it is wanting to reunite families, but I just don't know if that's always, I don't know if we should always look from a place of, well, we need to have this family where the mom and the dad or together in there with their kids. But it's like, if you don't trust your own kids with that person, why are we trying to force a kid to be with them? You know? If the judge or whoever wouldn't want their grandkids or their child to be with that person, why are we forcing another kid to do that?

So, I just don't think that always, you know, I definitely think having family is important, but I don't think forcing kids to be with someone that they really don't want to be with, I'm sure they have a good reason. I understand, there's you know, as far as that difference. And I know a lot of my reunification is the alienation trump card that is definitely being discussed in the world right now, which I'm really glad, is that a lot of that is coming now.

But, and, I just I think I've seen a lot of pain come out of reunification and also out of using the alienation card that if a kid has voice and doesn't want to do what one parent is saying, then well, they've been alienated. I just don't think that adds up.

00:30:07:15 - Linda

If you had a crystal ball and a magic wand, where do you want to see us with respect to children's rights and in child and youth survivor voices in 20 years time?

00:30:27:17 - Maya

I think in our services, I would love to see the work that's being done just continue in, including kids and even just all sides of government and all sides of the work world, having kids be a part of what we're building in society, I think is really important, and doing that in a really safe way, but having them be a part of things and starting them on the process of creating change young I think could be a really cool thing.

I think a lot of changes in the legal system and having more social workers, which, you know, that's a hard process in itself, but having more social workers and social workers that are trained and understand how to identify covert abuse and coercive control, I think that's really important. I would love to see suicide rates drop, which I think everybody does.

But I think that that also comes through systems that comes, you know, that it takes work being put into it. I think having kids be rescued and seen within the system, being in normal in 20 years would be beautiful because I just don't think that's the reputation our system has right now. And, I think having more transitional supports for kids coming out of care and foster care into adulthood would be major and kind of stopping the pipeline from aging out to homelessness, I think.

I think it would solve a lot of issues if we could have more support and help heal a lot of the toxicity in our system. So, those are really, really broad, but I think practical things, more children having more children’s lawyers all over Canada, all over the world, in Canada, in remote communities. I think, better training all around for parents, I mean, for teachers, coaches, service workers, social workers on how to identify covert abuse and coercive control. No more reunification therapy and no more having police remove children from the home they want to stay because of a court order.

If not, they're being abused, please take them out. But taking them out of a home where they feel safe just because of the court order, I think all of that is a major issue and I would love for that not to be happening in the future.

00:33:03:15 - Linda

Maya, your dreams are inspirational and I hope I'm around in 20 years to see how much progress we've made. But I know, that just listening to a little bit about your studies, that you're going to continue your work in this area and that our Canadian context and the world is going to be a better place because of it. So, thank you so much for spending this time with us and for talking so openly and off the cuff. 

It's really going to resonate with, I think, many, many people that are also working to bring about change and maybe inspire some who haven't spent as much time thinking about some of these things when it comes to children and youth

00:34:08:08- Maya

I'm just so happy to be here. Thank you for having me and spending this time talking with me. This is so good. I'm really excited.

00:34:14:25- Linda

That's wonderful. I want to just remind our audience to stay tuned for the next episode in this podcast series. And how you'll learn about that is from the Learning Network. So, watch for an email that will let you know when the next episode is ready. And again, Maya, thank you. Take care. Bye.

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