Youth Voice in Philanthropy: An idea whose time has come
Philanthropy plays a critical role in helping to address some of the most difficult challenges in American society. Yet foundations, like government, are far removed from the lives of those who are most impacted by these challenges, making it tough to know what investments will make the biggest difference in improving outcomes. Thankfully, foundations in the foster care space have come to understand that youth voice is essential to solving problems in the foster care system.
The Foster Care Workgroup of the Youth Transition Funders Group is a network of foundations investing in solutions to help young people make a successful transition to adulthood. When it comes to youth voice, our members are unequivocally committed to ensuring that young people are not only seen and heard, but that their insights and ideas are acted upon.
The YTFG Fellowship is a shining example of youth voice in philanthropy. The fellowship engages young people who have experienced the foster care or juvenile justice systems or have been disconnected from school or work to be involved in all aspects of the network activities. This includes presentations to our members, planning and facilitating meetings, and being involved in the development of publications. Members learn what our Fellows have to say about solutions to system challenges, and fellows can get to know our members and learn more about philanthropy. Fellows participate in a Philanthropy Project too, and are given a small pot of money they can use to give to causes they believe in. Several of our Fellows also sit on the YTFG Steering Committee and are involved in directing the overall work of the network.
Our members are also engaging youth voice in the work of their individual foundations. Examples include:
- Hiring young people with lived experience for full time staff positions
- Creating internships for young people who have had experience in foster care
- Requiring grantees to engage youth voice in foundation funded projects, including policy, research and program innovations
- Creating youth advisory boards to weigh in on foundation investments
- Investing in youth advocacy organizations where youth voice is front and center in policy discussions
- Providing young people with resources to invest in the things they care about
Maya Angelou once said “do the best you can until you know better; then when you know better, do better.” There’s no denying that youth voice is helping foundations do better, giving us all hope for the future of philanthropy.
Jennifer Miller is a social worker, child advocate, and founding partner of ChildFocus, a national child welfare consulting firm specializing in policy advocacy, philanthropic advising, technical assistance, and research and evaluation on behalf of children and families impacted by the child welfare system. At ChildFocus, the tagline is “connecting people, programs and policies”, reflecting the firm’s strongly held belief that their work is better and more effective when it’s informed directly by children and families and the community agencies and organizations that service them. ChildFocus facilitates the work of the Foster Care Workgroup and is honored to be in community with so many committed foundations. Jennifer has a B.A. in Political Science from St. Lawrence University, a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania and is a certified coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching.