Our final Foster Youth Voice Month blog post is guest authored by John Watson, One Voice IMPAACT Youth Council Specialist. We hope you enjoyed the series! 

One of the core principles of One Voice IMPAACT is Youth Engagement. We offer many insights on how to promote youth engagement through various calls, trainings, and activities. However, one of the most impactful ways youth can be engaged is through a local Youth Council. While it may be a fairly new concept to child welfare in Florida, youth councils have been a concept in existence since the early 20th century. How does OVI envision these “youth councils” to make a universal improvement? This post will give you a brief synopsis of what the OVI Network of Councils is and hopes to be in the state of Florida.

What is a youth council? Well, OVI believes that a youth council should be a representative body of youth with lived experience from each Community-Based Care Lead Agency, complete with the backing and support of the agency as well as a team of one or more staff champions to coordinate the work of the youth. These youth and staff champions will work together to address issues pertaining to their respective experiences and expertise of their service area.

How old should these youth be? OVI believes the youth and the staff champions tasked with creating the council should be the decision makers in matters like these. Will the council focus on youth transitioning out of care? Will their priorities be on improving the experiences of those still in care? Does the council want to provide a network of peer supports and mentors in partnership with staff champions? The answers to these questions can change the direction the council moves in and dictate what the age range of the council should be.

What is the purpose of the youth council? These councils are founded upon youth-adult partnerships. While many on the outside may see youth councils as an as additional work or another possibility to listen to youth complain about the system, we hope people in child welfare will come to understand that youth councils are an added value. Both youth with lived experience AND child welfare professionals offer great, though often completely different insights on the system of care. While youth offer the experience of living in a foreign environment and how this can affect them in various ways, professionals offer the understanding of the system and how it operates – which can help guide youth in the direction needed to help create the change that is being advocated for. It is imperative that both youth and staff champions understand and appreciate the assets each side brings to the table and how to work together to best address the issues at hand.

What is the importance of having a youth council in your area? The goal of One Voice IMPAACT is to have a representative youth council body in each CBC service area across the state. Our hope is that no matter where a child comes into care in Florida, there will be somewhere that youth can turn to and receive not only guidance and peer support, but also a goal to strive towards during their time in the system. Through developing your councils, OVI is collecting feedback from your youth and systems professionals on where the system needs improvement. Through this feedback, OVI will continuously work with DCF, FCC, and the lead agencies to improve the system for all youth in care. OVI is creating a youth voice movement – and you don’t want to be left out.

Join the youth voice movement and sign the pledge today!

John Watson is a 20-year-old former foster youth in his junior year at the University of Central Florida pursuing a degree in Political Science. He has been a part of the Selfless Love Foundation team since August of 2020 as the One Voice IMPAACT (OVI) Youth Council Specialist. He leverages his lived foster care experience, providing technical assistance and support of statewide network engagement. Through his three years of advocacy experience in Brevard County, John helps coordinate and present policy and practice change recommendations, guide the development of youth councils across the state, and promotes youth voice in the decision-making process. His goal is to get a localized, independent youth council in each Community-Based Care lead agency across the state to create local and systemic change that will improve outcomes for transitioning foster youth.