Imagine if a stranger took you away from the only home you had ever known. Your family, friends, everything that was familiar – gone. Imagine the confusion, sadness, anger, and fear. This is the experience of a child being taken into the foster care system.
Foster care is not a benign intervention. Foster care is a legal system that provides temporary or permanent care for youth who are unable to live with their biological parents due to neglect, abuse, or other issues. While it may seem like a benevolent intervention, the reality is that foster care has a profound impact on the lives of the youth who experience it.
Firstly, it is important to understand that foster care can be traumatic for children. Being removed from their homes cause a child to feel anxious, sad, and isolated. Additionally, being placed in a new home with strangers can be scary and unsettling. Youth may feel like they have no control over their lives and are powerless to change their situation. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression.
Secondly, child welfare systems are often overburdened and underfunded, which means that children may not receive the support and services they need to thrive. Foster care can have long-lasting effects on children. Many children who have been in foster care experience developmental delays, behavioral problems, and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may struggle with forming attachments, trusting others, and building self-esteem.
Lastly, the foster care system often fails to provide the necessary support for children who age out of the system. When children turn 18, they are expected to become self-sufficient, regardless of whether they are ready or not. This can leave them without a support system, a place to live, or the skills and resources to navigate the world on their own.
Knowing that time spent in foster care can have a long-lasting effect on our youth, we must advocate for improvements with a sense of urgency. We must work to improve the system by providing adequate funding, support, and services. By doing so, we can create a system that truly serves the best interests of our youth.
Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is a rainmaker for transition-age youth in foster care. Wynter’s work in this arena has helped launch a statewide youth voice movement, drive policy and practice improvements, and better equip system professionals and youth with tools and knowledge to achieve self-sufficiency.
Wynter believes that youth in the child welfare system should be valued as organizational assets. By using a pluralistic approach in which youth and systems professionals share control in decision-making, program planning and implementation, and advocacy, a dual impact of improved outcomes for transitioning youth and a more responsive child welfare system can be realized.
As the Executive Director of the Selfless Love Foundation, Wynter has led the state of Florida in making youth engagement a centerpiece of conversation. With over two decades of child welfare experience, an unwavering commitment to transforming the system, and an ineffable capacity to challenge the status quo, Wynter is a catalyst for change.
Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative, One Voice IMPACT (OVI), provides youth currently and formerly in care with opportunities to develop skills for leadership and life, advocate for changes to policy and join a network of youth leaders across the state of Florida.
Each October, Selfless Love Foundation leads Foster Youth Voice Month. The national campaign elevates the voices of youth with lived foster care experience to inform the public and impact child welfare systems across the country.