August 18, 2016 – On Monday, August 5, Michigan’s Children held our third KidSpeak event in partnership with Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP). Youth ages 16-24 stood bravely and told the stories of their experiences in the foster care system to a group of panelist made up of policy makers from various organizations. The youth provided their emotionally-driven testimonies in a way in which they were advocating for change within the foster care system to impact generations to come. While some youth were still involved in the system, many had aged out and are now pursuing post-secondary degrees from Wayne State University or other Michigan institutions. Youth spoke about topics including their safety in their placements and the community, educational and mental health resources, mentorship, and the importance of remaining connected with their siblings upon separation. All of the youth’s stories gave compelling reasons as to why policy makers need to make revisions to the foster care system in Michigan.
As a listener at this event, I was moved by not only the stories of the youth but by their confidence in standing and communicating how their experience, or the experiences of their friends in the foster care system, shaped their goals and where they are now. As an advocate for systemic change for youth, I enjoyed being a part of an event where youth can be an advocate for themselves with the support of those around them. Moving forward, I challenge myself and my colleagues at Michigan’s Children to keep hearing from young people through events such as KidSpeak, while also being a voice for youth who are not presented with the opportunity to have their stories heard. Additionally, in listening to the uniqueness of every youth’s journey in that room and how they were individually effected, I would encourage policy makers to take both the commonalities and the differences that they heard in each story into consideration when advocating for policy change.
A major part of the conversation was the lack of awareness of the availability of higher educational resources available to youth in foster care upon graduating high school. Youth also spoke about the need for mental health and counseling resources in their high schools. As a strong advocate for equity in schools and for youth being able to access a higher education, both of these conversations stuck with me. They inform my current work to better explain to policymakers what trauma-informed education looks like for foster youth, or any youth experiencing adverse experiences in their school, familial, or community lives. The testimony reminded the panelists of the importance of considering whole-child approaches when making policy decisions about the educational structure, opportunities, and resources for foster youth.
The KidSpeak event seemed to have resonated with many of the panelist as well as the audience, and I hope it encouraged the youth to continue to tell their stories so that society understands the complexities of the issues that these youth are facing.
– Briana Coleman
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.