It’s a warm, sunny August afternoon in SeaTac, and nearly 50 young advocates from all over Washington state are gathered in a packed conference hall. They are all here to deliver speeches to a panel of legislators and state leaders, who are involved in everything from private foster care to the state supreme court. For months beforehand, these advocates painstakingly crafted their proposals to prepare for this moment. At the Systems Reform Workshop the day before, they practiced their speeches, received feedback from professionals, and perfected each piece for its debut on stage.
Dear Friends: The Annual Youth and Alumni Leadership Summit represents youth-driven advocacy in its truest form. Youth leaders from across the state come together to reimagine and reform Washington state’s child welfare system. Over two days, they speak directly to systems leaders about issues they know firsthand — CPS removals from home, a lack of reflective foster homes, and overburdened social workers. While much progress is being made in the child welfare sector, our youth leaders know firsthand there is still much work to be done. They come together to work in partnership with The Office of Homeless Youth, the Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families to develop actionable solutions to these issues.
Our system is broken. In early June, Trump cut off funding for activities and resources that vulnerable unaccompanied migrant children need. He took away vital things such as English classes, and legal aid. These are crucial to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The reason given for the cuts was they were deemed as, “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety” according to spokesman Mark Weber from the Department of Health and Human Services. He shared further that, “the program could run out of money in late June, and the agency is legally obligated to direct funding to essential services.”
Warning: this article may be triggering due to the topic and content.
Recently, I have been learning about the power of a shared language, particularly for women. In educational terms, women are considered to be a part of the “muted group”. This means that women are marginalized, excluded, and made less powerful via the use of language. The term muted group can also be applied to other oppressed groups. Edwin and Shirley Ardener, the British anthropologists who created muted group theory noticed that society was designed for and generalized to the male population.
Power of One
In 4th grade I started to learn about slavery. Every time the topic of racial inequality, Martin Luther King Jr., or when the true story of Pocahontas came up my cheeks would burn, my palms would sweat, and my heart would pound as I looked around the room and saw all the white faces outnumbering me, including my teacher. In my 13 years of schooling, I did not have a single teacher of color. In 8th grade we watched the TV show “Roots.” Before we started the show, my history teacher bent down next to my desk and not so quietly said “if at any point you get uncomfortable watching this feel free to let yourself out and take a walk to cool down.” I was taken aback; he didn’t say this to anyone else. Looking around the room I understood why. I was the only person of color in that classroom.
Pay It Forward
While working in advocacy, I have found that many organizations stipend youth and young adults for their voice, life experiences and opinions. This is an amazing practice designed to show that us as that the life experiences we bring to the table are valued. I really appreciate being recognized in this manner. I have a small suggestion for improvement that has the potential to make a huge positive impact on our lives and how we interact with the organizations asking for our stories.
Pay It Forward
Over the last year there has been a movement. A movement that has swept across the state of Washington, and within its ravenous waters of change incorporated not only advocates and impacted people but entire institutions. All of whom were inspired to radically reimagine our juvenile justice system. It is by way of this movement and this radical reimagining that this year we were able to pass Senate Bill 5290 to end the practice of incarcerating juveniles for non-criminal offenses.