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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Foster Youth Take Charge
A new advocacy organization helped me find my voice
Miguel Ortiz

For years the voices of foster youth have been suppressed because we are too young to speak up for ourselves, or we are dealing with trauma in our lives, or both. For example, I was abused physically for 10 years and couldn’t do anything about it. I felt helpless, and I feared that no one would listen to me. That made me hold a lot of anger inside for a long time.

Recently, I found a way to regain my voice, while helping other foster youth. It’s a new group for young people called Fostering Advocacy Change and Empowerment (FACE).

FACE is run by young people who have been in foster care and want to help change the system. A project of the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence (NCCWE), FACE is based in New York City and is currently recruiting new members.

FACE is modeled on California Youth Connection (CYC), a youth-led organization that has won some big legislative successes in California since it began in 1988. CYC’s lobbying led to important changes including a state law that gives foster youth priority for on-campus housing at California colleges; a state law requiring social workers to ask youth about their important relationships and then to encourage those people to stay connected to the youth after they age out; and a checklist of necessary documents that family court judges now use with foster youth. In 2007, the group Foster Youth in Action (FYA) was formed to spread CYC’s methods to more states (see p. 14).

Help Others, Have Fun

FYA helps youth-led advocacy groups around the country by teaching basic organizing skills like developing a mission statement and group goals; how to run meetings where everyone gets heard; and organizing events that educate policymakers about foster care.

FYA also teaches its youth-led partner groups how policy gets made in their state and how to ask legislators and policymakers for changes. New York is one of seven states where FYA has come to help set up a youth-led organization. They helped establish FACE about a year ago.

image by Tracy Serdjenian

The other youth members are also getting a lot out of FACE. One 15-year-old girl said, “I learned that FACE isn’t just for me, it is for other people. With FACE I get to learn how to help others, plus I meet a lot of cool people.”

FACE is helping members create digital stories to share their experiences and what they think about advocacy. The digital stories illustrate our lives in the foster care system. The stories will be used to highlight the importance of youth voice and advocacy, to get support, to encourage youth to advocate, and to spread the word about FACE.

FACE will also do a listening tour around New York City to learn about the issues currently facing youth in care, recruit new members, and raise awareness about the project. During this tour, members will be trained to run focus groups. The FACE members will take the information they gather, analyze it, and write a report to suggest specific issues FACE should work on.

Empowering and Unifying

Both the digital stories and the listening tour will be completed in May, which is National Foster Care Month. That month, FACE will host an event for members, prospective members, and adults who work in the foster care system.

I joined FACE in November 2014 to help advocate for change in the foster care system, and it has been an extremely positive experience. After college, I would like to become a mentor or social worker for struggling youth. Being a part of FACE will help me gain experience for that career goal. It’s helped me sharpen my social skills by communicating with other youth in meetings and preparing for public speaking activities.

It’s empowering and unifying to help others, and I like learning about the legislative process. I want to see foster youth prosper and explode the negative stereotypes. Since I joined FACE, I feel less angry and more happy.

Connect With FACE

FACE is currently recruiting members and encourages current or former foster youth (including youth from the juvenile justice system) ages 15-24 to join. To check out upcoming events, visit the FACE Facebook

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