Foster Youth Advocating for Themselves
April 1, 2015
LINC Youth Advocacy
Youths aging out of the foster care system face many challenges, and do so without the assistance of strong family support.
In many ways, these young people face the adult challenges of the world – choices related to education, housing, and employment – all alone, but not always.
In 2007, the Local Investment Commission (LINC) began partnering with the Missouri Department of Social Services-Children’s Division to provide supportive services to young people in the state foster care system that were likely to remain in foster care until the age of 18.
The goals of this initiative included helping young people:
- Prepare for and make the transition from adolescence to adulthood
- Learn about and access available resources in the community
- Prepare for and enter post-secondary training and educational institutions
- Create positive connections in the community for long term support
LINC, which is based in Kansas City, serves approximately 300 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 at any given time.
Foster Youth Board
It became important for these foster youth to actively participate in advocating for change by educating themselves and other foster youth in the system.
To this end, LINC established a youth board, made up of foster youth, to look at the local foster care system.
With the support of LINC staff, the youth board members elect officers, set agendas, record meetings, and engage in planning to support positive outcomes for foster youth.
Membership is open to any foster youth age 16 or older, who makes a commitment to work towards the goals of the board. The board meets monthly, and membership size varies. Currently, there are four actively involved members.
In identifying local issues, the board observed that many older foster youth were not attending their Family Support Team meetings. As a result, these youths were not directly heard from in the overall review, nor did they contribute to plans that were being developed.
To address the issue, the board members have begun educating other foster youth about the importance of attending the team meetings. They have also requested LINC advocates’ assistance in talking with these youth, and have raised their concerns with the local Children’s Division administrator.
In response, the local Children’s Division office is taking a closer look at the issue and developing strategies to encourage older youth to attend the team meetings, including setting meeting times that are more convenient for the foster youth.
These changes will allow youth to advocate for themselves by participating in their Family Support Teams and contributing to the ongoing planning process where important decisions are made about their lives.
Statewide Foster Youth Board
Local youth board members also serve on a similar, but larger, statewide youth board that advocates on a broad, statewide level.
The group’s purpose is plainly stated on its handbook:
“We are the Voice of those who count” – The Youth in Foster Care of Missouri
Past efforts of the statewide youth board include advocating for themselves and influencing legislation that gives older foster youth who have been released from the system the ability to apply to re-enter the system to receive additional support, and to purchase non-owner car insurance.
The statewide youth board is currently planning and developing a foster youth conference to be held in the Summer of 2015.
The conference is planned by foster youth, led by foster youth, and will be attended by foster youth, foster parents, staff, mentors, and a variety of other supporters.
The statewide youth board meets quarterly and is supported by a dedicated staff member in Jefferson City. Foster youth from all across Missouri are represented.
Why youth advocacy is important
Youths aging out of foster care is a challenging issue – not only in Missouri but nationally.
A 2011 study of foster youth in the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin) found these results from tracking 600 foster youth over eight years and their situation at age 23 and 24 compared to their peers.
Here are the Chapin Hall study foster youth results:
Unemployed — Less than half were employed.
Homeless — Almost 25% had been homeless since exiting foster care.
Pregnant — More than 75% of young women had been pregnant since leaving foster care.
Convicted of a crime — Nearly 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime, and more than 80% had been arrested.
Uneducated — Only 6% had a 2- or 4-year degree.
The challenges of the youth aging out of foster care and extensively written about in the book On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System written by Martha Shirk and Gary Stangler, the former director of the Missouri Dept. of Social Services.
The Urban Institute and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago have a federal contract for “next generation” evaluation of federally-funded foster care programs.
The best advocates in the Foster Care System are those who’ve experienced it first-hand. We must do whatever we can to empower these young people, and project their voice to ensure that the life after Foster Care is one of support, and opportunity.
- Missouri State Youth Advisory Board
- The Local Investment Commission
- On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System
- Foster Kids Face Tough Time After Age 18 – NPR story, April 7, 2010
- Preparing for a “Next Generation” Evaluation of Independent Living Programs in Foster Youth, December 2014
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