Earlier this month, Foster Youth in Action, a national foster youth advocacy organization, hosted its inaugural “Voices Rising” webinar, an online presentation during which young people in the foster care system share their stories about action and organizing.
From meeting with legislators about policy to conducting trainings for their own case workers, the youth leading these projects are shaping the child welfare landscape in which they themselves live, validating one motto that was at the core of each presentation: “Not about us, without us!”
In Nebraska, youth from a group called Project Everlast were instrumental in implementing that state’s interpretation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (SFA). According to Cassandra Rockwell, an adult supporter from Project Everlast, since the group’s involvement with that legislative process, the youth voice has become a fundamental part of crafting policy related to foster youth on a state level.
“They did a ton of work with advocacy organizations to gather voices of more than 200 youth and other stakeholders in the system to identify how Nebraska could specifically implement SFA in way that fit for all of us,” she said to the webinar audience. “They presented at press conferences, wrote editorials for newspapers, they actually went to our capital and pulled senators off the floor to discuss the policy with them.”
As a result, not only did youth win gubernatorial support for that bill, they also inspired the creation of a task force around it. “At least three of the members of that task force will be alumni or currently involved young people,” Rockwell said.
In Nebraska’s implementation of the Strengthening Families Act, it is now written into law that youth must be consulted on their case plans at multiple points in the process.
Joshua Ashbaugh spoke to the audience about how young people in Oregon were determined to pass H.B. 2889 and 2890, two bills ensuring that foster youth are able to start savings accounts and have access to extracurricular activities, priorities they established at Oregon Foster Youth Connection’s (OFYC) policy conference.
The policy conference was the first time that Ashbaugh had participated with OFYC. In an interview after the webinar, the 20-year-old freshman at Portland Community College shared that he was fortunate to have a foster home that encouraged him to participate in extracurriculars, like sports and chess club. Being confronted with the other realities that his peers faced turned the bill’s passage into a passion project for him.
“We kind of teamed up with a lobbyist,” said Ashbaugh. “We wanted to know the game, the language … basically how to get through to legislators and legislative staff.” The youth then went to Oregon’s capital and met face-to-face with legislative staff.
Ashbaugh said the process improved him as a future professional. “Going through that process I definitely grew stronger in my communication skills, my confidence level rose a little bit, and I’m constantly going to be learning from that the more I think about it,” he said.
HB 2889 and 2890 both went into effect on January 1 of this year.