Listening builds trust. Really listening requires more than hearing what’s being said, we must seek to understand. Listening to, understanding, and respecting the opinions of youth who have aged out of foster care are at the heart of National Foster Youth Voice Month. Selfless Love Foundation has engaged 35 states for the inaugural effort this October. Our goal is to shift the perception of youth who are aging out of the foster care system from service recipients to people whose voices are valued by organizations and systems.
During Foster Youth Voice Month, you will get an opportunity to read the stories of youth with lived experience from across the country. You will hear from Laticia in Iowa on the importance of maintaining sibling connections. Alex from Connecticut opens up about the struggle for acceptance as an LGBTQ+ youth. And ShawnaRae in Wisconsin shares how being asked what she needed to feel safe and having her then 10-year-old voice honored changed her life. Beneath the trauma and struggles there is resilience, there is hope and a desire to make the system better. Really listening to these experiences will help us transform foster care.
In the child welfare system, we tend to focus on compliance over relationships. Instead, I challenge my fellow advocates to empower youth to be a part of making decisions that impact their lives, and to welcome them into the development of policies and programs that will produce positive outcomes. Embedding youth voices in decisions is the key to building a system that benefits the children it serves.
Tim Jaasko-Fisher, the Director for Internal Capacity Building at the Capacity Building Center for Courts, shares this wisdom on the value of youth voices, “you will learn to listen for their voice in all the work you do and sense where it is absent because your own work will feel incomplete without it.”
October is National Foster Youth Voice Month. I’m listening, are you?
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.