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PART 1: FOSTER CARE: Man who’s been through P.E.I.’s foster system says things are changing; help is out there

Now an adult, Wil Gunning is sharing his experiences in the foster care system to help others.
Now an adult, Wil Gunning is sharing his experiences in the foster care system to help others. - Millicent McKay

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a 3-part series looking at the foster care system on Prince Edward Island.

SUMMERSIDE - When Wil Gunning was eight-years-old he learned if he cried, he would be beaten.

That was before he was taken into foster care.

“When I was in Grade 6, I was waiting for the school bus one morning, and my mother told me to wait outside. I didn’t want to because it was like minus 20 out. So I called her a name and she punched me so hard, I was knocked out,” recalls Gunning.

On the drive to school, Gunning hid his swollen and bruising face by resting it on the seat in front of him.

“I could feel it getting bigger. When I got to school, the teachers asked me what happened. That was my first day in the foster care system.”

Throughout his childhood, he says his mother had broken 18 bones in his body.

Gunning was put into the custody of his grandparents for about three months before moving back in with his mother. But it wasn’t long before he was moved out of her home again. This time he was jointly cared for by his grandparents and another relative – one who he says today had sexually abused him.

His first foster home, covered all levels of abuse and when he was 13, he was sent to a youth home in Tyne Valley.

Eventually, Gunning finally found security; when he was taken in by the man who today he calls Dad.

“He was a huge game changer. He showed me he cared.”

After living with his dad, and reeling from the death of his grandfather, Gunning decided to leave high school. After a few months, he was forced to leave his home because he wasn’t attended school or working.

“I was couch surfing for a few months. I was basically homeless.”

At 16, Gunning decided to make a career out of fishing.

“I moved on with my life and began deep sea fishing. I got my own apartment. I went back and eventually got my GED, but I really regretting dropping out of high school because I promised my grandfather that I would graduate.”

Now the 21-year-old is speaking openly about the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse he has experienced.

“I got used to rolling with the punches, but it got to a point where I didn’t want to live anymore. But living through the helplessness and the hopelessness has taught me how to cope and how to teach others to cope.”

Gunning says it’s taken many years to get to where he is today.

“Physically it hurt, having a steel pipe smashed into you isn’t nice. It made me not trust people. It gives you the persona that you can take all this on and that really messed me up.”

But his father helped him through the tough times.

“He’s still the person I call whether I’m having a bad day or a good day. He sends me texts before I go out to sea for the day.”

Because of his support systems, Gunning was able to start his own business Gunning’s Tours, shipping and fishing company.

But he also uses his time to share his experiences in hopes of connecting with other youth going through similar circumstances.

“It’s the best rush in the world when you’re able to help others. My experience has allowed me to see how the system itself has changed. A rulebook no longer dictates the treatment of children. We want to develop relationships and make sure the child is taken care of. Things are really changing it’s better than when I was in the system.”

RELATED LINKS:

PART TWO: FOSTER CARE: Foster care program on P.E.I. constantly evolving to meet needs of children in care

PART THREE: FOSTER CARE: Foster parent shares experiences and joy of the job

millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com

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