Pay It Forward
I am an alumni representative in an organization called the International Foster Care Alliance (IFCA). IFCA’s mission is to collaborate with current and former foster youth internationally in order to improve the foster care system on a global level. We lead advocacy workshops teaching foster youth valuable skills, share our stories in hopes to create positive policy change in both nations and maintain the world’s first bilingual blog written about foster care by current/former foster youth. I have traveled to Japan with this organization three times and each trip has been very eye-opening for me.
Currently, about 90% of Japanese foster youth live in Yogoshisetsu’s — large group home style facilities that house anywhere from 20-200 foster youth at a time. As you can imagine, with little staff and a high turnover rate, these facilities are less effective at providing nurturance and support than regular foster homes (which are far rarer in Japan). Large facility style housing emerged from World War II when many youth were left orphaned, and haven’t evolved much since. There is a push to get a higher percentage of foster youth living in foster homes, but the system has been slow in changing, mainly because there’s a general lack of understanding/awareness about foster care. So much so in fact that if someone were to say “foster care” in Japan, it may be assumed that they are talking about pet adoption! IFCA has been working toward teaching the public about foster care, issues within the system, and also the importance of utilizing youth perspective when thinking about solutions — since truly, who would know how to improve the system more intimately than those who have lived through it first-hand?
Valerie Skelton in JapanValerie Skelton in JapanA highlight from my most recent trip to Japan was visiting a Salon — a place that helps foster youth/ alumni of care grasp life and actualize their dreams. The Salon assists youth in sharing their stories with the public so they can create positive change in the system and helps them resolve any issues they may be facing. Typical challenges a foster youth may face include: communication skills with peers, potential employers, the opposite sex and biological parents. Youth tend to have financial problems as well and need assistance with acquiring co-signers, opening a bank account, and even getting a cell phone. These youth often need the most help during the Two- Year-Gap, a period between eighteen and twenty where they have aged out of care but are not considered an adult yet.
I think Salons are a great idea because they care for the youth’s emotional well-being, provide a feeling of security/safety, and encourage them to achieve their dreams while facing their problems head-on. This kind of well-rounded support is something I believe we could further develop here in the U.S. I find that these kinds of services in the states are usually segmented — one organization will help youth reach educational goals, another may support emotional comfort, and a different one focuses on legislation and policy reform agendas.
I am thankful for all the skills, valuable lessons, and wonderful experiences I was able to have during my time in Japan. I am equipped with more knowledge to better serve young people in both nations, and I am more confident in myself to move these goals forward. I am truly grateful to be part of such phenomenal groups that aim to better the global child-welfare system.