What statement best describes your situation?
The pandemic has posed new unique challenges and forced many communities to practice social distancing for safety measures. Many offices that may have been open regularly are closed to the public and have left individuals in the child welfare system to rely on remote telecommunications. Given the lack of in-person services, it is important that young people are able to advocate for themselves effectively in this time to ensure that their needs are being met.
Your ability to advocate for yourself will depend on whether:
1. Know the system.
Each agency operates differently, and it is important to understand the system you will be navigating. Knowing how the child welfare system or your agency works allows you to understand and anticipate how you should be treated, voice your opinion when decisions are discussed, and understand how a concern or disagreement can be resolved through the agency's process.You can learn more about your system or agency by asking your guardian ad litem (GAL), case worker, court appointed special advocate (CASA), or foster parent. Some questions you may want to ask are:
Do I have rights as a foster youth?
How do I go about resolving a conflict, concern, or disagreement?
I don’t understand the court process, can you explain it to me?
What if I am being mistreated?
How do I contact my caseworker?
Can I talk in court? What if I am nervous?
2. Self advocate.
Self advocacy is one's ability to advocate for their needs, rights, and ability to navigate the system in which they are involved in. Here are some resources to help:
Connecticut Voices for Children has created a toolkit to help young people learn how to self advocate. This resource provides guidance on how to demonstrate self advocacy, examples of agencies empowering youth to self advocate, and research.
Peal Center provides five tips on how to foster self advocacy.
Speak Up! provides guidance on how to use your voice in all aspects of your life. Self advocacy can be applied in many aspects of life including school and while seeking medical attention.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) are ten steps to being an effective advocate for yourself.
3. Make your grievances known.
Please view our playbook on how to use the foster youth bill of rights to ensure your needs are met. This will help you to navigate the foster youth bill of rights depending on where you live, and file grievances or complaints when your rights are violated.
Transitioning to adult life is a major life transition that can be overwhelming if you are not sure what to expect. Be sure to self advocate and tap into your support systems to create your transition plan. Questions that should be answered prior to your transition include:
Housing stability: During team meetings you may want to ask what resources or programs are available in your community, what are the qualifications, and emergency assistance available for housing stability for young adults.
Post-secondary education: If you are considering going to college, ask your case manager for resources that may be available to you in your community. States such as New Mexico have tuition waivers, while other states provide Education Training Vouchers.
Emergency resources available in your community: Life will inevitably have unexpected difficulties. Knowing what resources are available in your community for emergency financial assistance, mental health, general health, and food assistance may come in handy for future use.
Medical insurance: Resources for health insurance vary state to state. It is important to know what is available and planning for this need prior to aging out of care.
Life skills: Utilizing programs or education opportunities to equip you for adult life is critical. Cooking, banking, budgeting, and transportation are a few of the skills that young adults should have prior to transition.
Documentation: Personal documents are essential to have prior to transitioning out of care. For example, you will need a birth certificate or social security card to secure employment and other adult functions. If you are not yet a legal citizen, ensuring that the paperwork and process is completed prior to transitioning out of care is critical to a successful transition.
Make sure to check out a toolkit called “Things People Told Me” created by Portland State University for young people transitioning to adulthood to help them anticipate what to expect.
These are some organizations and opportunities that you can explore:
Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA) connects the alumni community and transforms policy & practice, ensuring opportunity for people in & from foster care. (Age requirements not listed)
Foster Club seeks to help lead efforts of Foster Alumni, to contribute to efforts that lead to better outcomes for youth and young adults. You can inquire for more information here. (Age requirements not listed)
Foster Coalition offers an abundance of resources, opportunities, and channels to get involved in Child Welfare Advocacy. (Age requirements not listed)
Foster Youth In Action (FYI) has a national and international network of advocacy efforts, initiatives, national advocacy institutes, and local groups. They also provide leadership training opportunities, and seek to empower young advocates in their journey. (All ages)
International Foster Care Alliance works to advance and improve the Child Welfare System by engaging in learning opportunities, collaboration efforts, and network building with communities around the world. (Applicable for youth ages 19-27)
National Foster Youth Institute is an organization that provides multiple opportunities for advocacy such as leadership training opportunities and civic engagement opportunities. (Applicable for ages 18-30)
National Policy Council ensures to include the viewpoint of lived experienced individuals, in advocacy in regards to policy and practices. (Age requirements not listed)
Think of Us works to leverage the advantages of technology and partner with local, state, and national networks to create innovative solutions that bring young people to the center. (All ages)
State and Local Organizations:
Child Welfare provides a directory for state and local youth advocacy and advisory board opportunities.
National Consulting Opportunities:
Capacity Building Center for States, through the Children’s Bureau, provides an abundance of advocacy focuses within the child welfare system one can get involved in. (Applicable for ages 18-25+)
Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative is an organization which works at the local, state, and national levels to advance policies and practices to most effectively meet the needs of young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood. (Age requirements not listed)
National Youth in Transition Database provides an opportunity for young people to gain experience with technical data collection from youth currently in care, and the transition journey out of care. (Applicable for ages 18-25+)