YouthSpeak: The Importance of Foster Youth Voice and Educational Outcomes

Mark CasasSometimes, as foster youth, we don’t really know who is actually helping to improve the foster care system. We face many obstacles and hardships before and after entering the foster care system. However, there are many organizations and professionals working to improve foster care. I wish more foster youth had visibility to the number of dedicated individuals and organizations who are working to better serve foster youth’s education throughout the state of California.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a recent meeting of child welfare professionals, school district administrators, and advocates at the Stuart Foundation in San Francisco. I learned about the great work that’s been done to improve educational outcomes for foster youth. Some of this work includes a collaboration between child welfare and school districts in different counties.

Now, efforts are also made that encourage and emphasize the importance of youth voice, including how young leaders can help improve policy and practice. When I was in care in 2010, the importance of youth voice was not being considered in the same way. It’s good to see different organizations recognizing the significance of the youth background and feelings. While improvements are being made, I learned that it is also important to admit to mistakes and failures. Reflecting back as a student in my university, I noticed that foster youth voices were not taken into consideration when implementing changes in the foster youth program structure within the institution. This had a drastic effect on student retention and morale. To dismiss foster youth voices is to forget the objective that is meant to help us.

I also learned of exciting things on the horizon which include data sharing in how child welfare and schools can share data and information to better serve youth in care. Other programs are being established for college preparation at a younger age, starting even at sophomore year of high school.

Attending the recent meeting in San Francisco has taught me compassion for others and how to collaborate with others to support foster youth achieving their educational goals. We must never forget that we are all humans with different experiences but share similar aspirations.

My involvement as a young leader has enabled me to contribute in the effort to improve educational outcomes for foster youth. I have also benefited personally from the experience, particularly in the area of professional development. For instance, before FosterClub, I did not know what a conference call was or how to call in. I did not even know that professionals took trips to have meetings. For this opportunity I am truly thankful. At the end of the meeting, I asked to be considered for a youth voice representative for the Orange County Department of Education. I am excited for the future effort and glad to know that there is a supportive team behind foster youth. I want to voice not only my experience of being a foster youth but all foster youth throughout the county and state. Our backgrounds matter, our uniqueness matters, our voices matter.

____________________________________________________

Written by Mark Casas, FosterClub California Youth Ambassador

Mark entered the foster care system at the age of 13 and spent 5 years in care. He is in his Junior year at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and is pursuing a degree in Psychology with a minor in Art. Currently, he serves as the Guardian Scholars Program Student Assistant and helps find housing for homeless and foster youth who are on campus. He is also a Peer Mentor at the Orangewood Foundation where he helps foster youth learn basic life skills. Mark serves as an Advisory Board member for California Youth Connection. During his free time, Mark enjoys hiking and art.