Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

It seems like a simple concept, but what about when it comes to a young person and using their voice. It’s easy to advocate for someone and what we believe would be best for them. The hard part is teaching them to advocate for themselves, and taking a backseat to truly listen to what those needs are. As professionals in the child welfare system it can be overwhelming to look at the work that is expected on a daily basis. But we choose, every day, to help children and young adults in the hopes of making their lives better. Our young adults, didn’t have the same choice. They didn’t choose foster care, they didn’t choose their trauma, and they didn’t choose the homes they are living in. Their voices in many of our decisions, are stifled by the choices we as adults are making, “for their own good.” However, what I’ve found is that the more respect and responsibility we give our young adults, the more they step up to the challenge. It may take a little bit more time, however allowing them to voice what they want or need, is the first step in helping them regain control over their life and who they want to become.

Now, I know that one kid you’re thinking of. “If I ask them what they need, they’ll say nothing” or “I can’t get through to this young person without them yelling at me.” Providing youth a voice isn’t always going to be easy and you’re going to hear things you don’t like, but that’s when you need to listen the most and allow that young adult to have control in a life where they don’t feel like they have any. Help them unpack those feelings, get to the root of the problem, and teach them to fish.

Kendra Hilton is the Program Coordinator with Family Support Services of North Florida, the lead agency for foster care and adoption in Nassau and Duval Counties.

 During her time with Family Support Services, Kendra has worked with transition age teens and young adults who have aged out of care by running the teen enrichment programs that are designed to teach life skills and provide normalcy opportunities. She is the staff advocate for the Youth Advisory Board and assists the young adults with promoting change within the system they have experienced. She hopes to help the members of the board expand their mission to ensure all kids in care feel seen, heard, and safe.