Sitting a table of people consisting of key players in child welfare can be intimidating. This was my first thought when I joined the Missouri roundtable strategy discussions concerned with permanency in our Program Improvement Plan (PIP) for the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs). However, as I set in and listened to these professionals speak I realized how important it was for their to be a representation of youth voice.
I thought back to my time at the Oregon Teen Conference where I was joined by an amazing group of youth during the youth speak sessions who provided such insights to the issues affecting foster youth in the quest for permanency. I thought of my 10enacious 10 All-Stars who were all on different levels of permanency.
Not to mention all the youth who I were able to share Getting Solid with and help educate about permanency. Above all things that I have learned and been inspired by throughout my time as an All-Star; permanency would rank the highest. So needless to say when I was sitting and listening to professionals in my state try to improve permanency among Missouri foster youth I couldn’t help by speak up. I felt as though they were covering all the angles except for how it affects the youth.
I sat there a bit puzzled at first thinking to myself “Do these people understand what permanency is”? To them they did. Based on the definition outlined in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) they were making great progress in PIP suggestions. Nevertheless, I know that from working with foster youth across the nation they were missing some vital elements. Sitting at the table I no longer felt intimidated but compelled to express how youth feel about permanency.
I shared the importance of connections with supportive adults, caseworkers explaining what TPR or termination of parental rights means to youth so we can realistically know if our biological parents would be re-entering into our lives, and letting youth be involved in choosing the ASFA track we are put on. Along with several key factors, I explained to my state that the word permanency means different things to different youth. The best way to make improvements in our state when dealing with permanency for our youth is to engage those involved. As a 22- year-old alumni of foster care I am still struggling with this concept and I know I’m not alone.
Permanency is something that affects foster youth long after we age out of care. Looking back if this concept had been explained to me and if I were involved in the process I might not be in this position. However, my motivation was the thousands of youth still in care in my state. My hope is that through my voice I can help make a difference for them and those to come. Since leaving Seaside, this was the first event I have attended in my state. I cannot express how inspiring it was. When I joined the table people listened to me.
They turned to me for insight. I felt so blessed to be able to represent the youth in my state and help voice issues that our foster youth are dealing with. Over the next few months I have a few events lined up and I am looking forward to continuation my mission of improving child welfare. I will no longer be intimidated because I know that I won’t be sitting at that table alone. Each time I will take a little piece of the thousands of youth in care in my state and know that my work is for them.