It is time to listen to youth voices in the foster care system.  We cannot improve the system without gathering feedback from the consumers of our programs. We MUST raise youth voice from a whisper to a thunderous roar. We MUST integrate lessons learned from their lived experience to improve our programs, processes, and policies.

The term youth voice describes a strategy in which young people are authentically engaged in working toward changing the systems that directly affect their lives. …putting youth at the center of articulating priorities and describing the best ways to get these priorities addressed” (Youth Voice Evaluation, 2011, pg. 1). Studies have shown the importance of youth voice in promoting positive youth development (Serido, Borden, & Perkins, 2011).

One youth shared, “When we are telling you what we have gone through, it is not to make you feel bad. I am telling you this so that you can learn from it and evolve from it as a system of care. Don’t tell me there is no way that could have happened, that there are policies in place for that, or that it is not the system’s fault.”

We CAN do better; we MUST do better. Youth in care are counting on us to listen without judgment or defensiveness. Healing starts when they feel heard.

If you think youth voice is crucial for transforming the system, evolving as a professional in the field of child welfare, or helping youth become successful adults, we ask that you sign the One Voice IMPAACT Youth Voice Pledge to show your support.

“I pledge to give youth with lived experience in the foster care system a safe space to share their story, the opportunity to make decisions about their life, and a voice in transforming policy and practices.”

Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is the Executive Director for the Selfless Love Foundation whose mission is to enrich and transform the lives of current and former foster youth through raising awareness, strategic partnerships, and advocacy. 

For more than 20 years, Dr. Wynter has worked on behalf of abused, neglected, and abandoned children, providing leadership for local, state, and national efforts to improve the child welfare system. Dr. Wynter’s expertise in strategic planning and systems building has supported her transformative work in the areas of independent living and adoptions.

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.

References: Zellerback Family Foundation (2011). Youth voice as a strategy for systems change: An evaluation of the Zellerback Family Foundation, Youth Voice Initiative, 1-17., J., Borden, L.M., & Perkins, D.F. (2011). Moving beyond youth voice, Youth & Society, 43(1), 44-63.