Valuing Their Voices
We must stop hurting the people we are trying to help. This is what I said when I was recently honored with the Champion for Children Award at the Florida Coalition for Children’s Conference. While I am so proud of the work that we do in Florida to elevate youth voices, and the work others across the country are doing to support youth advocacy councils, there are several things that the system needs to change to better support transition-age youth.
You see, we took these youth from their families with the promise of a better life and then, we failed to get them permanency. Now with the odds stacked against them, our youth are being emancipated without a formalized connection to a supportive adult. We can do better for them.
I am not proud that we hold meetings about the youth, without the youth. This only serves us, the system, by allowing us to check the box for compliance but it hurts a youth’s ability to develop self-efficacy.
I am not proud that we don’t utilize available technology to empower our youth to choose their foster or adoptive parents, therapists, and case managers. I am not proud that we facilitate youth transition staffings like business meetings. Do we truly believe that 16- and 17-year-olds, who have experienced a childhood of trauma, have the capacity to develop and execute a plan to successfully transition to adulthood by themselves?
I am not proud that we set up transition cliffs of services and resources on their 18th, 21st, and 23rd birthdays, rather than transition ramps based on their developmental readiness for self-sufficiency.
I look forward to a day when our youth are not just listened to, but are truly heard. When their voices are the most important voices in the room. When we, as a system, believe that building authentic relationships with our clients is more important than checking a box. A day when all youth leaving care have sustainable connections with caring adults.
These are our children. We can do better.
Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is a rainmaker for transition-age foster youth. 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 foster youth with tools and knowledge to achieve self-sufficiency.
Wynter believes that foster youth should be valued as organization 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 transform 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 current and former foster youth 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.
This October, Selfless Love Foundation is launching “Foster Youth Voice Month. The national campaign will elevate the voices of youth with lived foster care experience to inform the public and impact child welfare systems across the country. Click here to sign up your agency.