From October 16th-19th, several Mockingbird Youth Network staff attended the Foster Youth in Action (FYA) 2015 Leaders for Change (L4C) Conference in Washington D.C. We created the conference to bring together youth-led foster care advocacy organizations from around the country to make a difference in the national child welfare system. In total, there were 14 groups representing 13 states, including about 80 youth and young adults. On Monday, October 19th, our work culminated in a policy briefing for people who are interested in child welfare system reforms on a national level.
According to their website, “Foster Youth in Action trains and empowers foster youth to be strong leaders who advocate for their interests while actively improving the foster care system at both the state and national levels.” 1
FYA invites youth and young adults who have been to L4C before to help plan the annual multi-day retreat. I was excited to be a part of the six month effort by the Youth Leaders Council (YLC), which is the group that planned the first Washington, D.C.-based L4C.
It was a success — young people from around the country led and participated in workshops on leadership, recruitment, and effective advocacy. With their collective knowledge, they spoke with their Congresspeople about ways to help foster youth heal from trauma. At the culminating policy briefing with young people, foster care stakeholders, and policymakers, we highlighted the impact of trauma on foster youth. Foster youth average five traumatic experiences before or during care. 2
We had two important proposals to help foster youth heal from trauma. First, we proposed creating federal funding for states to operate youth-led social action groups, peer to peer mentoring, and peer to peer community building, because youth heal from trauma better when they can share their stories with their peers and the community with the hope of making foster care better for others. Second, we proposed making Trauma-Informed Care training mandatory for ALL professionals who spend a significant amount of time with foster youth, including juvenile court judges, juvenile probation officers, foster parents, and others. We want them to understand the impacts of trauma, recognize the signs of trauma, and help the youth heal from their trauma without re-traumatizing them. At L4C, Mockingbird got a favorable response from Congressman Jim McDermott’s office about our proposals. Congressman McDermott is a long time Mockingbird advocate and national champion on foster care issues.
Overall, the entire event was a success. It was a taxing experience, but we made it through as stronger leaders. We made new friends, explored our nation’s capitol, and shared our experiences with organizations in other states that are doing similar work as Mockingbird. Thank you Foster Youth in Action for this opportunity to become better leaders and share our experiences with our peers and federal policy makers.
2: Greeson, J.K. et al. (2011). Complex Trauma and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents Placed in Foster Care: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Child Welfare, 90(6), 91- 108