Despite how they’re often treated, young people in the foster care system are powerful beyond measure. Even though they rarely have significant and meaningful opportunities to share their concerns and ideas or make meaningful decisions about the systems that control their lives, youth engagement in foster care often need each other. Transforming foster care by empowering children and youth in foster care is absolutely vital. Rather than focusing on speaking for children and youth or doing things to children and youth, the foster care system should take action with young people to improve the system and outcomes.
Don’t try to silence me or my thoughts on being adopted. I have a voice, and everything I say is the truth and valid. I have been through it, therefore, I know. This is my story.— Source unknown
Ways Youth Engagement in Foster Care Happens
Youth as Decision-Makers — Young people in foster care should have substantial opportunities to make decisions for themselves. Adults should teach children and youth healthy and successful decision-making skills, and facilitate decision-making for every children and youth in foster care to experience personal, group and systemic decision-making, too.
Youth Evaluation — Positioning youth as evaluators can provide meaningful, applicable and real ways to change the world through foster care. Whether evaluating their placements, support services, counselors or other individuals and activities that affect them directly, or integrating them throughout community-wide evaluation activities, young people in foster care can share powerful assessments of their world.
Community Youth Development — In addition to teaching foster youth independent living skills, it is essential they learn how to rely on others throughout their communities in healthy, supportive and empowering ways. Interdependent living skills can be learned through community youth development strategies that are designed to integrate foster children and foster youth throughout their communities, whether geographic, cultural or otherwise.
Needs for Youth Engagement in Foster Care
Opportunities — Foster care is an adult-driven system with adult-determined goals operated by adults for the benefit of adults, all focused on children and youth. Young people need substantial, relevant and meaningful opportunities to affect the system. These should not be tokenistic, belittling, demeaning, manipulative or otherwise negative. Instead, they should be equitable, geared towards youth/adult partnerships and transformative for everyone involved, including children, youth and adults.
Training — Whether they’re learning how to transform foster care in group homes, in nonprofits, through government programs, with foundations, or through the media, children and youth in foster care should have significant training. Their skills should be developed to ensure successful action, while their knowledge should be shared to encourage meaningful personal development.
Technology — Using every technology available to them, children and youth in foster care can change the world. Texting can increase communication and community building among youth in foster care, while social media can help ensure that foster childrens’ voices are heard. Building websites and forming organizations online can further systemic goals focused on youth engagement, while access to the Internet can be a building block for further action.
You Might Like…
- Mockingbird Society
- Represent: The Voice of Youth in Care by Youth Communication
- Youth MOVE National
- Youth Leadership Advisory Team: The Voice for Maine’s Youth in Foster Care
- California Youth Connection
- “Sharing Perspectives: Youth Voices for Change” Voice Magazine by Casey Family Services
- “Mississippi Youth Voice” by the Mississippi Teen Advisory Board for Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative
Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in foster care in your community or organization, contact us.
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