Today’s blog post is guest authored by Larry Rein, President & CEO of ChildNet, lead child welfare agency in Broward & Palm Beach Counties.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

I find this quote to ring true when I think about our interactions with youth involved in the foster care system. As a leader in the child welfare system for the past twenty years, I have witnessed our state shift to an innovative and effective Community-Based care approach. An integral part of this approach is our ability to better engage and listen to our community-children, youth, families, caregivers, providers, and other stakeholders, and quickly adjust our services based on local needs.

Sometimes I wonder if we are truly listening to our customers, the youth and families we serve to understand, or are we listening to reply. Understanding requires us to see the world from someone else’s perspective, accepting what they say as their “truth” and giving them the opportunity to make decisions that impact their lives.

Listening is an art that requires work, self-discipline, and skill. To sharpen our listening skills, we need to listen without defense or judgement, learn to ask clarifying and follow-up questions, and practice reframing and patience.

The next evolution for Community-Based Care is not going to happen because of policy changes or new leadership. It will happen when we get better at listening to those we serve. Allowing them to use their experience in the system as expertise in driving practice changes. Let’s celebrate Foster Youth Voice Day this October by giving youth involved in the child welfare system a safe space to truly be heard.

We hope you are supporting Foster Youth Voice Month by sharing our blogs and social media posts! One Voice IMPAACT is publishing 30 blogs to help raise the profile of youth with lived experience in Florida’s foster care system. We hope that this will be of value to child welfare professionals and youth advocates. Be sure the sign the Youth Voice Pledge here to show your support.

Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative entitled One Voice IMPAACT 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.