It’s a simple question, yet it carries a lot of significance. What is Youth Voice? It isn’t a sound you can pick out of a crowd of voices or a quote you can choose from a list of words. Authentic Youth Voice is something you can feel. You can feel the passion, the understanding, and the urgency for change.

Just recently, members of the One Voice IMPAACT (OVI) Advocacy Council had the opportunity to travel to Tallahassee for two days to advocate on OVI’s policy priorities. As our team hopped from office to office, the stories our youth shared left an impression on legislators. From Diamond’s fun skits with Senators and Representatives to Hunter’s heart-to-hearts that moved a legislator to mention her experience in a committee meeting, everyone brought a new piece to the story being told. It’s not just with legislators, either – youth with lived experience from the system of care have a wealth of great ideas that anyone can learn from. The adverse childhood experiences faced by these young adults lead to inspirational outcomes, each with their own lesson or story to tell. All we have to do is give them the platform and elevate their voices enough to where others can’t help but listen.

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.