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System Reform
Maven Gardner

 

I believe it’s important to have those with lived experience be heard loud and clear, all of us here at Mockingbird do. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to share my experience with homelessness and foster care.

Maven Gardner Voice2.final

I believe it’s important to have those with lived experience be heard loud and clear, all of us here at Mockingbird do. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to share 

my experience with homelessness and foster care. But in our work, we often come across a common problem; there are many committees and boards that are working to end youth homelessness and transform foster care that do not have much, if any, youth voice. I can’t imagine how it’s at all appropriate to create a team to end any sort of problem, and not have someone with lived experience included.

It upsets me a bit that there are often limited seats at the decision-making table and there is only room for one youth spot, rarely two. That shouldn’t be the case. It sends a mixed message to our young adults. That their voices and stories are important, but we can only offer them one seat at our table. One seat is not a fair or equal representation. According to data from Partners for Our Children, in July 2018 there were approximately 9,200 children and youth in foster care in Washington state. According to a 2016 report from the Office of Homeless Youth, 28% of youth experienced homelessness within 12 months of aging out of care.

It’s unrealistic to have one person serve as the mouthpiece for widespread issues such as foster care or homelessness. Taking the diversity of those affected into perspective, equal representation should be a no-brainer. Welcoming one voice can be tokenizing, and results in an imbalance when it comes to our policy work. How can we make impactful change if we’re only seeing a small fraction of the problem? 

I understand there is a need for service providers and legislators to be a part of these conversations, and I in no way want to remove them. However, it should be a priority to fill the seats with those who have lived experience. Having legislators and community partners with lived experience is a great step forward.

 At Mockingbird, we all have very different and often chaotic lives. Therefore, having multiple seats at the table will ensure consistent youth and young adult presence, because our lives are often still in flux. Real concerns such as loss of housing, state benefits, or transportation challenges create barriers to continuous involvement.  Mockingbird has seven chapters full of youth with different backgrounds who have knowledge on the things we all want to change. With more seats at the table, we could make sure that young people are always being represented.

As a model of how this could work, we can look to The National Youth Forum on Homelessness (NYFH) through the True Colors Fund. NYFH is one of the only youth led advocacy board working to end and prevent homelessness in the country. While its unacceptable so few seats exist, it’s inspiring to know many boards and legislators are working diligently and in partnership with young people to change this norm. We must do better at giving our young people the platforms needed to transform our systems for the greater good.  

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