Youth with lived experience in foster care are often asked to share their story for a variety of reasons. Youth are flattered by being asked to speak but without adequate preparation it can go off course and awaken painful emotions for the youth, leaving the audience wondering how to fix such a broken system.
Personally, I have cringed with guests at a fundraising luncheon, listening to a youth share details of sexual abuse. I have heard a volunteer ask a youth “what did you do to get into foster care” and I have seen a youth’s story rewritten for a marketing piece. These mishaps could have been avoided with preparation and respect for the youth as the expert. As youth champions, we must ensure that youth are ready to strategically share their story in a way that uplifts them, the audience, and the system.
The National Youth Resource Center for Youth Development in collaboration with FosterClub’s developed a “Strategic Sharing” toolkit to prepare our youth for making thoughtful decisions on when to share their story and what parts of their past they are comfortable sharing. One Voice IMPAACT offers this training to all youth councils to help youth learn techniques for assessing red, yellow, and green light statements and managing uncomfortable questions with an escape hatch.
While I believe those who asked me to speak had good intentions, the truth is that I was ill-equipped for the experience… No one had helped me prepare and no one had warned me about the resurfacing emotions of hurt, pain, and insecurity. My mighty mission was to improve foster care, but I felt like a solider going into battler without any training or protection.
As child welfare professionals and youth advocates, we need to help youth prepare to share their story. By teaching them strategic sharing techniques, providing them compensation and debriefing afterwards, we can help youth protect themselves and their hard-earned story.
Dr. Elizabeth Wynter is the Executive Director of Selfless Love Foundation, whose mission is to enrich and transform the lives of current and former foster youth through raising awareness, strategic partnerships, and advocacy.
For more than 20 years, Dr. Wynter has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and abandoned children, providing leadership for local, state, and national efforts to improve the child welfare system. Dr. Wynter’s expertise in strategic planning and systems building have supported her transformative work in the areas of independent living and adoptions.
Selfless Love Foundation’s youth voice initiative entitled One Voice IMPAACT provides current and former foster youth opportunities to develop skills for leadership and life, advocate for changes to policy and join a network of youth leaders across the state of Florida.