The Power of Engagement, Support, and Connection

May 27, 2021
| Taffy Compain, National Foster Care Specialist| Children’s Bureau
Group of smiling teens

Good things happen when youth in foster care enjoy strong, enduring, and empowering relationships with the circle of professionals involved with their casework. Just ask Ivory or John, two young adults who experienced multiple placements during their many years in foster care. Thanks to caring professionals in the child welfare and legal systems, both Ivory and John transitioned from foster care to become responsible and empowered young adults determined to help others do the same.

From a very young age, Ivory's Visit disclaimer page ability to have a voice during her court hearings and maintain vital social connections helped make her who she is today. "I remember being a small child, no more than 5 or 6, and I was given the chance to speak at a court hearing that was held in downtown Pittsburgh in a gloomy, dungeon-like courthouse. Although I was (and still very much am) a shy introvert, I clearly spoke up and out to the judge that I would like to be back with my mother—I felt seen, I was heard, and I felt empowered to be a working part of my own permanency plan." That sense of agency and ownership clearly empowered young Ivory early on. After 17 years in foster care, Ivory now works to empower children and youth in care as a Youth Advisory Board member at the National Association of Counsel for Children in Denver.

Ivory explains that while children and youth in foster care often feel disempowered and adrift, her experience shows the difference that engagement can make. "When we intentionally trust youth to provide us information about their wants and their needs, we give them back the agency they so desperately seek... It enables them as stakeholders in their own lives," Ivory says. As she describes it, "There were key people throughout my entire childhood and adolescence—lawyers, social workers, advocates, independent-living workers, and even judges—who grew to know me and who were in support of me being empowered to advocate for myself, my wants, and my needs... Their connectedness to me and their investment into my growth and success will be with me forever."

John Visit disclaimer page , a youth advocate for Florida-based One Voice IMPAACT, a youth engagement initiative, is right where he wants to be today—thanks to being actively engaged in his case plans. "Even though I went to three different high schools and lived in three different foster homes… I was fortunate to get placed with a loving foster home where I continue to live today… I am an example of what the system can do right by connecting youth with supportive adults." John is helping to ensure that child welfare agencies appoint Youth Voice Champions to create safe spaces for youth to express their feelings and help them find their voice in difficult situations. "You can help youth learn to trust again and feel empowered by their foster care experience rather than ashamed," John says.

Ivory and John's stories are part of several featured on the National Foster Care Month website Visit disclaimer page . The Children's Bureau is restating the theme "Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents" this year to emphasize the importance of ensuring our children, youth, and parents emerge from their care experience stronger and with the tools they need to maintain stability in their families and relationships. The website hosts resources, social media, and related spread-the-word Visit disclaimer page outreach tools to strengthen the capabilities of all engaged in this important work. This year's website highlights ways to collaborate with the judicial and legal communities to make sure youth and family voices are well-represented in permanency planning and court hearings and that older youth have the support they need as they transition to adulthood.

Having a voice, being heard, and feeling connected are vital to well-being and successful outcomes. During May, we recognize all who are doing their part to elevate the voices of the children, youth, and families they serve and express gratitude to those who support them. Visit our website Visit disclaimer page to learn more about helping the youth and families in your community achieve the connections, reunification, and permanency they seek.

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