Arisha Khan named McGill’s 145th Rhodes Scholar for youth welfare advocacy

The Selection Committee for the Rhodes Global Scholarship has chosen Arisha Khan (U3 Arts) as McGill’s 145th Rhodes Scholar. Rhodes Scholarships fund at least two years of postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford and are awarded to promising young leaders motivated to tackle global challenges.

Khan’s focus on the intersection between health services and child-welfare policies stems from her own experiences in the Ontario foster care system. Raised in the foster system,  Khan lost financial support at the age of 18 after her children’s aid society, the Peel Children’s Aid Society (Peel CAS) deemed that she was not following her plan of care, a guideline developed by the children’s aid society to determine their future living situation, by choosing to work full-time as a high school student. According to Khan, the privatized and decentralized nature of the child protection system makes it difficult to hold accountable.

“The volume-based funding model [of the Ontario foster care system] is a profit-seeking game because, instead of [providing] continued care for the young person, it becomes about keeping the youths in as long as they are making money for the [foster care] agencies,” Khan said. “There is really no way to seek recourse and justice unless you have the resources, and when you’re that vulnerable [as a foster child], you can’t.”

From 2013-2016, as a high school student, Khan was an appointee on the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities (PCYO) where she advised the Ontario Premier and Ministry of Children and Youth Services on youth-oriented policies and programs. Since 2016, she has been the Vice-President (VP) of Youth in Care Canada, a national charitable organization that promotes a national strategy for child welfare and provides legal education for youth.

“When I was on the [PCYO], I [saw] how a single line in a policy can impact so many people because it can enable [someone’s access] to a service, or it can restrict someone from accessing vital [support],” Khan said. “Youth in Care Canada is uniquely run by and for youth in care […], and I’ll be wrapping up my work there before I go to Oxford.”

While working on policy development for Ontario youth mental health systems, Khan became involved in technical policy work. At McGill, Khan pursued her interest in funding models by serving as VP Finance of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)  in 2017. Khan also analyzed healthcare systems and integrated care for aging populations at the McGill Observatory on Health and Social Services Reforms under the supervision of Daniel Weinstock. Weinstock, also Khan’s program advisor, noted her resourcefulness and determination in an interview with The McGill Tribune.

“When I heard that Arisha got the Rhodes Scholarship, I was not surprised at all,” Weinstock said. “She took the difficult task of coming up with her degree [Comparative Health and Social Policy] that fit her purposes and is incredibly engaged to a level that is rare even among McGill students.”

Khan will enroll in the Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation Master’s program at Oxford in Sept. 2019. Her thesis will focus on the impact of child protection health services.

She hopes that recent publicity of her winning the Rhodes Scholarship will deter the media from underplaying what she believes are serious inadequacies in the current Canadian foster care system.

“When people tell me ‘you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps,’ it’s harmful because we shouldn’t be expecting kids [in foster care] to do that,” Khan said. “[Many media outlets] just want to sell a story about the first foster kid to win [a Rhodes Scholarship], and it’s a harmful narrative because it pats the [foster care] system on the back.”

In an email to the Tribune, McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier congratulated Khan on her accomplishments.

“[Khan] is committed to making a positive impact on the world and to giving back to others, and has done so right here at McGill with a project aimed at offering scholarships for students from the foster care system,” Fortier wrote. “She has a strong sense of purpose, and I have no doubt that she has the qualities, commitment, and character to lead lasting change.”

 

A previous version of this article stated that the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies had deemed that Khan was not following her plan of care. In fact it was her children’s aid society, Peel Children’s Aid Society.

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