Gathering with others dedicated to serving children, youth and families from around the nation is always inspiring, and this year’s Family Focused Treatment Association’s (FFTA) yearly conference was no exception. In attendance were policymakers, foster care agencies, healthcare providers and foster parents, all gathered together to encourage one another and to become better equipped in the work we do to serve our nation’s most vulnerable population: foster youth. Being among so many other like-minded and passionate people (760 to be exact) in order to learn from one another is always uplifting and informative. The FFTA conference attendees who inspired me the most this year were the FosterClub representees, a group of highly intelligent, articulate and expressive foster and former foster youth who brought a refreshing perspective and vital voice to many trainings and seminars.
FosterClub is a national network for youth in foster care that helps them become more connected to their peer network, helps educate them on their rights and resources, inspires them by sharing stories and connections with others who have overcome the child welfare system, and helps ensure that they are represented well to the public and with policymakers. FosterClub is committed to giving youth a voice within the child welfare system and providing them with the necessary tools to have a successful future. In a nation that as a whole continues to relegate youth and children--especially those in the foster care system--to the lowest levels of priority and representation, it was inspiring to meet a group of empowered youth dedicated to changing the foster care experience for themselves and others. I attended trainings where these FosterClub All-Stars lent their invaluable perspective, and, as the social media ambassador for the conference, also had the privilege of interviewing some of these youth to find out why they are so passionate about the work they do. Here are a few snippets of the quick interviews I had with them:
“My name is Katie and I am a 2018 FosterClub All-Star. I spent seven years in the child welfare system and I’m here advocating for foster youth who may not have a voice in the system, and I am gaining tools and experience with social workers because that is my career [path]. I personally feel that presenting to a group of professionals in the foster care field was exciting because I could see the passion in their eyes and the hope that they have for youth in the system, and [that they] truly care for the foster youth they work with.”
“My name is Ramond from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I am also a 2018 FosterClub All-Star. I’ve spent seven years in the foster care system. I’m here to speak for the unheard voices, and advocate for youth and make change. My experience presenting today [at the FFTA Conference] was strange in a good way. I’ve never presented [to] a full house of adults before. Usually, we speak more to youth in the foster care system, as well as their foster families or guardians. Bringing our message to adults working in the field and engaging with them was a very positive experience. I know our perspective came across well, and I think that our voice will inspire change in the system for the future.”
“My name is Elian, and I am from California, [and] also a 2018 FosterClub All-Star. I’m here as well trying to advocate for other youth who have experienced similar circumstances as myself, and I’m also here to gain tools and resources to provide better services to youth as I serve them in my career as a social worker.”
“My name is Bianca, and I’m from the Bronx, New York. I am also a 2018 FosterClub All-Star, and I’ve been in care for about seven years and I’m still in the foster care system. My goal for being here today is to advocate for foster youth, but in addition, learn a bit more about myself and help others understand that foster care is not a negative thing and should not carry a negative stigma, and also that the experience we carry as foster youth can be a positive strength to use to our advantage.”
These and several other FosterClub young adults came from every corner of the nation to lend their voices to the conversations at the FFTA conference in order to better educate us all on how to shift the foster care experience for future youth. Throughout their placements in foster care, they faced many difficult situations and rough circumstances through no fault of their own, but now they are working to bring change to the foster care system so that youth coming into care will have better experiences and outcomes. This year’s conference theme was: “Hope, Healing and Partnership”, and what better hope could we possibly hold than knowing that these incredible individuals are the future of our nation’s leadership, child welfare system, and political system? Their strength, resilience and passion shone brightly, and brought hope to every training they led and participated in, every table discussion, and every person who flocked to their booth.
Thank you, FFTA, for making this gathering possible year after year, and for making space for youth to bring their perspective and voice to enrich the FFTA experience! I hope we’ve all returned to our agencies impelled to empower those we serve to be our nation’s loudest and strongest voices for future positive change!