System reform iconSystem Reform
Alyssa Downing

It’s a warm, sunny August afternoon in SeaTac, and nearly 50 young advocates from all over Washington state are gathered in a packed conference hall. They are all here to deliver speeches to a panel of legislators and state leaders, who are involved in everything from private foster care to the state supreme court. For months beforehand, these advocates painstakingly crafted their proposals to prepare for this moment. At the Systems Reform Workshop the day before, they practiced their speeches, received feedback from professionals, and perfected each piece for its debut on stage.


This is Mockingbird’s Annual Youth Leadership Summit. It’s a chance for youth leaders from across the state to share their reform ideas with legislators and with each other.

Each Chapter’s topic is unique, but this year they all center around a single theme: housing, and barriers to it. The Olympia Chapter talks about the Vulnerability Index and its lack of comprehensiveness, which leaves some of the most vulnerable populations on the street. The group from Spokane talks about how hard it can be for homeless youth to get state IDs, which limits their access to housing options and employment. The Everett Chapter discusses how putting traumatic information front and center in a foster youth’s case files can be a barrier to placement.

There’s an air of hope and determination in the room; these young people have been through each of these problems before, and now they’re making an effort to fix them. The crowd applauds as speeches conclude and awards are given. Legislators compliment each group on their initiative and drive. As the presentations come to a close, people mingle with little sandwiches and discuss how each proposal can be implemented. The Mockingbird Society’s staff and youth advocates gather to take pictures together and celebrate another successful Summit.

“I think everybody had fun, and we got a lot of great feedback,” says Farid Rasuli, Senior Network Representative at The Mockingbird Society, and a youth with lived experience in foster care, “Overall, it was pretty awesome.”

People start to filter out of the hotel, picking up their bags and returning to their respective corners of the state. The next step: putting the plans discussed today into action. This is the halfway point in the advocacy cycle. Youth Advocacy Day is only six months away, but for now, we rest, recuperate, and regroup. Fighting this fight takes a lot of energy, but transforming the systems that impact the lives of young people is worth the effort.

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