The Mockingbird Society has accomplished much in its 15 years of existence. Part of what keeps us going strong year after year is the ability to build support for what we call “legacy issues.”
Legacy issues are issues that are so big, that once we topple them, they help define the legacy we will leave behind. They require us to bring nothing short of our “A game,” and usually require a good amount of time to address. Often times, a legacy issue can be broken down into smaller sub issues that we tackle year after year.
An example of a legacy issue is addressing what happens to a youth as they transition out of foster care. Historically, many youth exiting foster care have not been adequately prepared to transition successfully into adulthood. In the not so distant past, it was common for youth to be kicked out of their foster home on their 18th birthday with little or no support. Because of the instability they can experience in the actual system, many youth have not been equipped with the skills and supports they need to be successful in independent living situations.
The Mockingbird Society came up with a plan with the state legislature and the Children’s Administration in 2006: Foster Care to 21 was a pilot program meant to address this issue with one population in mind — alumni of care who were striving to get a post-secondary education. Congressman Jim McDermott noticed the program and was impressed with its results. He took the idea to D.C., and in 2008, the Congress passed legislation called The Fostering Connections Act. The Fostering Connections Act was designed to help states by giving them Federal funding if they provided stable housing for youth in foster care past age 18. Seven years later, in 2015 all foster youth in Washington state are entitled to sign back into foster care from age 18-21 to receive help with housing and other supports. This allows them the time necessary to ease their transition from foster youth to fullfledged independence.
With Extended Foster Care fully implemented, we are ready to take on another multiyear issue. We are looking at what big issues currently need to be addressed, and what issues should we invest our time and resources into. A few issues that could become legacy issues for The Mockingbird Society are legal representation for foster youth in dependency proceedings, filling gaps in the statewide homeless youth and young adult services continuum, as well as prioritizing adolescents in child protective services. After all, if CPS fails to respond to concerns about child abuse/neglect when an adolescent is involved, those young people have a high likelihood of experiencing homelessness.
All that being said, 2016 is looking to be an exciting new year. We will have new leadership, and will be creating new legacies.