The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Fixing Foster Care
Represent staff
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Before 1993, Youth Communication (YC) published only one magazine: New Youth Connections, (now YCteen). In the early 1990s, more and more of the YCteen writers were in foster care, and YC decided to give foster youth their own magazine.

Publishing stories about the realities of care was threatening to some: Some staff at New York City’s child welfare agency told the editors that it would be “illegal” for children under 18 to write about their own lives. Nevertheless, Represent began publishing on July 1, 1993, and added youth voice to the conversation. Jane Spinak, Director of Columbia Law School’s Adolescent Representation Clinic, has worked in the child welfare field in New York City for 38 years. She says, “By describing every aspect of life in these systems, Represent writers have educated adult professionals about youth experiences. Their narratives have influenced the policies and practices of foster care agencies, caseworkers, lawyers, and judges at the same time they encourage other foster youth.” Among the changes are youth advisory boards in many agencies. Spinak credits Represent for the increased attention to youth voice.

This issue features stories that diagnose problems in foster care today—and offer some solutions. Tayia Day went into care at age 10 and was returned to her mom a year and a half later. She wasn’t told anything about what was happening. She felt that she and her mom didn’t get enough help navigating their reunification, and she provides creative ideas for how family therapy might make that transition easier for families. Tayia also reports on solutions, writing about a new mentor-mentee program at SCO Family of Services that combines one-on-one bonding with group activities. She also interviewed a retired child welfare worker about what she learned in her 40 years in the field.

Sedrick Sanchez revisits bad treatment he’s gotten in different homes and uses it to make suggestions for foster parents. Jasmon S. shares ideas for making kinship care more like a normal family, with less interference from caseworkers. Zariah Oliveras reminds caseworkers that foster youth can grow attached and could use advance warning if you are going to quit your job.

Nobody knows more about foster care than those who live in it. We hope this issue of Represent shows adults how to better care for foster youth and reminds youth that they too can advocate for change.

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