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LucasStrongerTogether

Representative from Australian advocacy group reflects about his time with The Mockingbird Society.

To have the opportunity to work with passionate, warm, caring people. People who don’t just stand for something but work with skill, courage and pragmatism to bring about positive change. To be in place where there is safe space for debate, wrapped in the warmth of community. Where the ideals of youth/adult partnership aren’t just words, they are actions. This is what I found at Mockingbird.

Hi my name is Lucas Moore and for the past two months I have been visiting the United States from Australia, completing an internship with The Mockingbird Society team as part of my Master’s degree. I am on an extended break from my role at the CREATE Foundation - the peak consumer body for children and young people with [foster] care experience living in Australia.

I have worked for CREATE for over ten years, working to connect and empower children and youth to engage in systems advocacy to achieve our mission of ‘Creating a better life for children and young people in care.’ A colleague at the CREATE Foundation introduced me to Mockingbird’s work. Mockingbird stood out to me as a best practice model of systemic advocacy primarily for two reasons: its clearly articulated advocacy model (based on legislative change) and its track record of significant systemic reforms in Washington state. I was keen to see what I could learn from the Mockingbird team to help improve my work in Australia.

In the months and weeks leading up to my trip to the US my curiosity grew about how the reality of Mockingbird would match up with the public image of the organization.

My questions were answered in my first week when I attended Mockingbird’s Yakima Chapter meeting with Youth Development Manager, Leah Nguyen. On the way to Yakima Leah explained the youth led process for deciding which proposal a chapter would take to the annual Mockingbird Youth Leadership Summit which was fast approaching. When we arrived at the meeting venue we met the Yakima Mockingbird Ally, Rosa, from our partner agency Catholic Charites Serving Central Washington. Allies are representatives from partner organizations who provide critical support to assist young people to engage with Mockingbird and help them deal with any issues which might arise at Chapter meetings. I found the use of Allies at Mockingbird such an awesome idea –they expand the capacity of Mockingbird to engage with youth, promote youth voice and form of a coalition of support to make the changes that young people are calling for a reality. Something that also stood out for me was how truly youth led the meeting was. Heaven and Dorian ran the meeting with openness, positivity, and focus. The more senior Mockingbird staff were there as supporters, not leaders.

As the weeks flew by I had the opportunity to attend more Mockingbird chapter meetings and assist the seven chapters with research for their 2018 Mockingbird Summit proposals. It was a journey of discovery for me, learning about homelessness and systems of care in the United States - a journey that was framed by topics defined by young people with lived experience in each of the systems. It was truly inspiring to see young people not only engaged in systemic advocacy but driving it with their experience and their testimony. As the Summit approached, it was fascinating to see how the different chapters’ proposals for system improvement (e.g Spokane’s topic was about starting transition planning meetings for young people aging out of care earlier) evolved as a result of partnerships and sharing between youth and adults about what would be most effective. Partnerships where the adults involved offered advice but stepped back enough to make space for youth to make the final call about what proposals would be presented to the Supreme Court Commission on Foster Care and the Office for Homeless Youth (OHY) at the summit.

The Youth Leadership Summit itself was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was lucky enough to be assigned to support the Olympia Chapter and was touched (but not surprised) by the comradery, passion and commitment of the chapter members, not to mention the strong leadership from Chapter Leader Sabian. The whole experience felt authentic. On day one, the Systems Reform Workshop was held so that sector advisors and alumni could help chapters refine their proposals. On day two, the now fine-tuned proposals were presented to the Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care as well as The Office of Homeless Youth Advisory Committee. Young people’s proposals were taken seriously, and they had the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with decision makers. This was not a dog and pony show. It was real. During the 3-day Summit we also heard presentations from partners like Treehouse about the successful implementation of previous advocacy wins (e.g. HB 1808 driver’s license program that is now helping 179 young people; this was a Mockingbird advocacy priority in 2017). This demonstrated to the young people at Summit that their voices did matter, they could make change.

I think that one thing we can all hope for in life is to be part of endeavors which represent ‘the best’ of in our chosen field. I feel I had that experience with Mockingbird and for that I am eternally grateful to the kind-hearted souls on the team for letting me into their world for a little while. It was a wonderful world to be part of and I will miss it – but I return home with a newfound belief that whilst the problems with our care and homeless systems are complex, our young people have the brains and heart to create SO MUCH positive change. We just need to make way for them.