It is so easy for youth to lose their voice while in care. It’s sad for them to feel small during such a significant time in their life. Yet, their voice is bigger than anything going on in their case. Their voice holds the power to prevent them from being silenced or forgotten. It’s their voice that will allow them to overcome anything. If we engage youth in understanding the power their voice holds and support them in the journey of using their voice, the opportunities are endless.
The baggage foster youth carry is unfair. It is almost unmanageable. The expectations set for youth sometimes seem impossible. If you don’t meet those expectations, or show signs that you aren’t okay, then you are labeled as delinquent, troubled, damaged, or broken. At any moment I felt as though I could fail; I could lose myself and be silenced. With the right amount of support, and the opportunity to not just be listened to, but truly heard, we are capable of exceeding seemingly impossible expectations.
In my case it was difficult trying to understand why I had no say in my life. How is it that the state has every detail of my situation on file, but I never got the chance to tell them my story? I have lived with generations of unhealthy patterns, so why place me back in the home you know little about? I realized that nothing would change if I did not break away.
I decided to break the cycle, and I did. Using my voice is the reason I am no longer in a household that is broken.
“I don’t want to be placed back with my mom.”
“I want to stay here; I want my sisters to stay here.”
“My sisters deserve to have a better life.”
“Nothing has changed.”
“Things are still the same.”
“It is not safe.”
I will no longer be silenced if it means risking my future and overall wellbeing. This is my case and this is my time to be heard. Although I felt like I was betraying the person who gave me life, I knew in my heart that it was the right choice. I am destined for something different, even if that means staying in the foster care system. Each individual youth has their own wisdom and story to share. Each child’s experience is a new opportunity to better the system. I always convey to foster youth that their voice is what inspires change in the child welfare system. Each and every voice plays an integral part in this journey.
I am meant to use my voice.
My voice matters.
Katelyn Stark is a 21-year-old Foster Care Advocate and speaker. She is a 2020 Fosterclub All-Star and the president of Utah’s Foster Youth Advisory Board. Katelyn is currently studying Pre-nursing and Family Services at Southern Utah University. Katelyn is passionate about advocating for youth in the foster care system and continues to find ways to share her story to make a difference.