When the system of care provides not just the basic needsfood, shelter, so on—but also the advanced needs—love, comfort, hope—of youth, then we are all better off.

When I was younger, I ended up in foster care. My father had passed away due to a service-related illness, and my mother, though she is the sweetest and kindest mom I could ask for, struggled with her mental health.

Foster care was horrible at times and wonderful at times. I got the support that I desperately needed, but there were also many moments of hardship. For example, it was difficult balancing the relationship between my caregiver and my mother, who I stayed in touch with.

At some placements, my caregivers became adversarial with my mother. Thankfully, my case worker was there to step in. At many points, she fought to make sure I could maintain contact with my mom, like I wanted. There were a lot of times we got supervised visits. I would go to McDonald’s with my mom and my case worker. Sometimes, we got approved for weekend stays.

Through it all, my caseworker listened to me, understood my needs, and fought to advocate for me in and out of court. Like any rebellious teenager, we butted heads often, but I am so thankful she was there.

All that to say, please understand that for many people in foster care, our family lives and our home lives are so complicated. It is so critical that caseworkers do more than just move through the motions.

Mine could have simply fulfilled statutory requirements and the day to day business functions. I could have simply been left to deal with those emotions and those conflicts by myself. But instead, my case worker stepped up and helped me navigate that. As a result, I am now 21 years old and I just helped prevent my wonderful mother from becoming homeless.

When the system of care provides not just the basic needs—food, shelter, so on— but also the advanced needs—love, comfort, hope—of youth, then we are all better off.

Other youth may have different needs. Some may want no contact, but the court might consider a parental request for contact; you should step in. Others might want contact with some but not all of their birth family, or something else entirely; please, step up for your kids.

Remember to make time to help your youth work through their feelings and to develop an action plan that meets not just placement goals, but also the child’s goals. Also, when possible, getting a child in therapy can help them understand their trauma and their goals better.

Hunter Lyons, a foster youth leader and student activist, grew up in foster care and now both attends & works at the University of West Florida. He has a great deal of experience as a student organizer, having spent years working on advocacy efforts to help Florida students. Recently, Hunter started grad school and a job at his university, where he is a financial aid specialist tasked with getting federal emergency grant money to students in need.