The Importance of Youth Voice and Choice in Care
“Nothing about us without us.” This is the modern rallying cry for foster youth across the nation. From the moment we enter the foster care system whether that’s at age 7 or 17, we’re told to trust the adults in charge, that they have our best interests at heart. We’re told that they are there to help. But help can take many forms for youth in foster care, it could be connecting us to families, getting us mental health supports, or guiding us through school. All of these are crucial, but an often overlooked piece of help that is rarely given is the encouragement to use our voice. Giving us this help, however, relies on a feature that the foster care system doesn’t always have and that is trust.
The system and those working within it, have to trust the youth they are working with. Trust us to know what we want, trust us to be experts on ourselves, and on the experiences we’ve had. Allowing us to lift our voices and have input, and being proactive in seeking it in us shows us the trust we need. It helps us to know you truly want to help us and that we are viewed as partners in the process of navigating our time in foster care.
Beyond just establishing trust and a partnership, amplifying our voices allows us opportunities to create real change in the foster care system for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters that come behind us. On the small scale we’re able to influence our case planning and ensure that we’re getting the support we need while we’re in care and as we exit. On a larger scale, many of the flaws with the foster care system, can be fixed when foster youth use their voice. Look at the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, foster youth rallied for months to ensure they got targeted relief, and we got it! We got $400M to help us weather this pandemic and now we’re rallying again to extend the aid. Congress only listened because we raised our voices, which only happened because someone told us our voices had power and that they should be heard. Just imagine how radically different our system would be if every foster youth had someone in their life that encouraged them to use their voice.
Our individual voices are beautiful and powerful, and when we, as current and former foster youth, speak there is no doubt we should be heard. Foster Youth Voice Month highlights the power our voices have and the importance of using them. I encourage every foster youth to use their voice in whatever way they can, always remembering that your voice has an impact and should be welcomed anywhere you go. I also encourage anyone working with foster youth to seek their voices out, hear them, and act on what they say. If we can do this, then the sky really is the limit.
Tony Parsons is the federal policy specialist for Youth Villages where he handles a diverse policy portfolio of transition age youth issues. He spent 3 years in the Michigan foster care system before being adopted at a young age, he hopes to become President of the United States one day to bring foster youth voices to the highest office possible.