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Giving Foster Youth a Voice

Adoption, Foster care, Youth

Photo of Emily BrunelleBy Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Public Affairs

Three out of four Americans use social media and in response the Children’s Bureau, which oversees foster care and adoption in the United States, launched a new set of videos on YouTube to help promote an ongoing national survey of America’s foster youth.

The National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), launched in 2010, tracks the outcomes of foster youth during their transition to adulthood at ages 17, 19 and 21. The NYTD survey marks the first time foster youth nationwide are being asked what worked in foster care, what didn’t, and what they would change for the better.

State child welfare agency employees help promote and encourage foster youth to participate in the new survey. To support states in understanding the importance of this effort, the Children’s Bureau enlisted former foster youth to share their personal experiences on video. Enter stage left: Emily “Emmie” Brunelle.

After four years of living in three foster care homes, Brunelle, 20, is now living on her own. She is a bright sophomore taking on gender studies and sociology courses at Casper College in Wyoming.

The impressive full-time student holds down three jobs and balances an active volunteer schedule with youth groups. This hectic life doesn’t faze Brunelle, who’s endured a lot at such a young age.

She is a success story — and her story is now captured in a national survey of young people in foster care. By collecting these stories, the Children’s Bureau hopes to learn how youth who have aged out of foster care are doing and what services and support they need to be successful like Emily. So when Wyoming’s foster care agency invited Emily to participate in the NYTD survey in 2011, she did. 

“They invited me to Washington, D.C.,” said Brunelle, who later was asked to attend a national meeting with staff from the Children’s Bureau to discuss the NYTD survey. “No one bothered or cared about my story before.”

“Emily knows a lot about the NYTD data collection effort and has some fantastic ideas — and high expectations — for states using this new data source to better understand and serve youth who are transitioning out of foster care,” said Program Specialist Miguel Vieyra.

Vieyra is the point person in charge of the NYTD effort at the Children’s Bureau. He shared some ways they engage youth to get the best information possible for the database:

  • Bringing foster youth annually to Washington, D.C., to meet with Vieyra’s team to discuss NYTD data results
  • Assigning foster youth to technical working groups that identify strategies to help states collect, analyze and use NYTD data
  • Training a group of former foster youth who travel with Vieyra whenever he visits to assess state implementation of NYTD data collection

“So not only are youth participating in NYTD by taking the NYTD survey, they are also the ones helping us evaluate how and how well states have implemented that survey,” Vieyra said.

Take a peek at what they’ve accomplished. Also look for “Emmie” throughout the series:

  • Spotlight on the National Youth in Transition Database (7 minutes) — This video introduces the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), the first national data collection effort on youth aging out of foster care.  Eight young people discuss their transition experiences while findings from the first year of data collection are highlighted, including results from more than 17,000 surveys conducted with youth in foster care. 
  • Take the NYTD survey (5 minutes) — In this video, young people discuss the NYTD survey and why it’s important for youth transitioning out of foster care to take it.
  • Give the NYTD Survey (4 minutes) — In this video, young people discuss why it’s important for state child welfare agency staff to administer the NYTD survey to youth transitioning out of foster care.

Kudos to Vieyra and his partners for using social media to raise awareness about the survey as a new source of information and to promote the idea that — yes — it is possible for federal workers to partner with youth directly to improve government programs.

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