All people want to be seen, heard, and valued. We want to be deeply heard to meet our need for connection. As a system of care, we are always talking about the concept of youth engagement and improving communication methods to keep youth plugged in. Well, I think as a system it’s time to stop talking and start doing more listening. We need to listen to be able to make or maintain the connections we have with youth involved in the child welfare system. I know. It seems so simple, but I’m convinced that reflective listening is the communication strategy that will establish and improve the relationships we have with our youth.

If we couple this approach within local youth councils, youth will not just voice their complaints and frustrations but they will strategically share their lived experiences. Youth councils operating in partnership with child welfare professionals and leaders, where everyone, and I mean everyone, is seen and heard. This not only creates an atmosphere of empathy but also one of transformation.

If we want to transform the system and more importantly the lives of those impacted for the better, then we must connect. We need to intentionally create time and space to meet and reflectively listen to one another. Transformational relationships are the cornerstone for any youth engagement initiative, like youth councils. If you are not already participating or supporting a youth council in your community, this message is specifically made for you. If you are a youth with lived experience or a youth voice advocate, contact me and I can help get you connected to a local council.

Brandie McCabe is the Director of Youth Initiatives for the Selfless Love Foundation and Chair of Florida’s statutorily mandated Independent Living Services Advisory Council. Formerly the statewide Youth and Young Adult Transition Services Specialist with Florida Department of Children and Families in the Office of Child Welfare, Brandie has dedicated over 16 years to serving vulnerable children and young adults. Through various positions held in both the state and private sector, she has effectively led and executed statewide programs and projects. Brandie holds a B.S. in Criminology from Florida State University and a Child Welfare Protective Investigator Certification.

Brandie can be reached at [email protected].