The Mockingbird Society is known as a legislative advocacy organization, but have you ever wondered how we actually do advocacy? Let’s break it down into four steps: issue development, defining solutions, refining proposals, and mobilization/direct advocacy. Beginning in spring, youth start discussing issues they would like to see changed in order to improve foster care and end youth homelessness. In summer, youth then start to present their topics to the community, and we move into the building support and relationships phase. In the fall, chapter members and staff at The Mockingbird Society begin to think about strategies to achieve our advocacy goals. Finally, the last part of our cycle happens during the winter when we engage in direct advocacy in Olympia — meeting and lobbying in Olympia with lawmakers, as well as hosting our Youth Advocacy Day in Olympia.
During the 2015-2016 advocacy cycle, The Mockingbird Society endorsed bold youth-led ideas that became our legislative priorities. The first piece of legislation we endorsed was HB 2834. This bill would have allowed youth under the age of 18 who are experiencing homelessness to be able to consent to their information being entered in the Homeless Youth Management System (HMIS). Being able to do so would allow service providers and decision makers to understand how many youth under age 18 are homeless, and what services youth and families need. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass. One thing we know is that we cannot solve youth homelessness if we do not have a complete understanding of the scope of the problem.
The second priority we endorsed was funding for HOPE beds. HOPE Beds are emergency shelter beds around the state of Washington for homeless youth under the age of 18. Youth can self-refer to a HOPE bed and receive up to 30 days (sometimes more) of case management services to figure out whether they can or should return home, go into foster care, or if there is another way to achieve stability. Currently there are 23 HOPE Beds spread thin around the state. The Washington state legislature allocated $1.028 million to fund 23 additional HOPE Beds for a total of 46 altogether, which equals an additional 8,395 nights of shelter for youth.
The Mockingbird Society also advocated to increase funding for street youth services. The Street Youth Service Program provides funding to programs that do outreach, drop-in services, and case management to youth under the age of 18 who are experiencing homelessness. By providing more funding to these programs, youth will know what is available in their communities with the hope they’ll have access to services that they need.
Finally, the Legislature allocated $150,000 in the state budget for a formal evaluation of the Mockingbird Family Model (MFM). The MFM is an innovative way to deliver foster care that brings together 6-10 licensed foster homes to intentionally build a micro-community. The evaluation will be done by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) and will evaluate the MFM’s effectiveness around child safety, permanency, placement stability, and caregiver retention. We are hopeful the data will support what we have been saying all along, that “Foster parents take better care of children and youth in their care when they feel better supported.”
Achieving these victories could not be done without the support of the community, the Washington state legislature, and the youth who are constantly advocating for change. The Mockingbird Society would like to thank everyone who helped us in our advocacy efforts.
All over the state, our Mockingbird Youth Network (MYN) and Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness (YAEH) are hard at work identifying issues within the homeless and foster care systems that they want to see get fixed.
If you are between the ages of 13-24, living in Washington, and have experienced homelessness and/or foster care and want to make your voice heard, contact The Mockingbird Society and find out where your closest Mockingbird chapter meets. Phone: 206.323.5437