Earlier this year several members of our Independent Learning Skills Program met with members of our community partner Janus Youth Programs and headed up to Olympia for Youth Advocacy Day, where they joined over 300 others to speak with legislators and advocate for issues pertaining to foster care and homelessness.
Youth Advocacy Day is organized by The Mockingbird Society, an organization that works with young people and families across Washington State to improve foster care and end youth homelessness. Members of our ILS program have participated in Youth Advocacy Day since 2009.
Participants discussed three key issues during Youth Advocacy Day:
1. Strengthening extended foster care by expanding eligibility to youth who age out while in Juvenile Rehabilitation, as well as allow youth to enter extended foster care until the age of 21, instead of needing to enter by the age of 19 as it currently stands. Foster youth who are able to participate in extended foster care have repeatedly shown to have higher levels of success in continuing education, finding stable employment, and permanent housing, as opposed to those who are abandoned by the system the moment they turn 18. It’s crucial to expand the program to benefit more foster youth.
2. Ending youth detention for status offenses. Status offenses are acts that are only considered criminal for minors and not for adults, the most common examples being truancy and running away.
3. Expanding the Passport to College Promise Scholarship program eligibility to all youth in foster care. The program, as its name suggests, is designed to help students from foster care attend and succeed in college. However, as it stands right now the program excludes foster youth who moved to Washington from out-of-state, as well as tribal youth.
Robbie Orr, director of ILS, emphasized the value of having foster youth speak directly to legislators on these issues. “It is important for youth to attend this event because they are the ones that are experiencing life in foster care, or experiencing homelessness,” said Orr. “They are the ones who can create the most impact by telling a personal story about why legislative change is so needed.”
You can see pictures of Youth Advocacy Day here. You’ll notice that many of the participants are wearing orange scarfs, which represent the Mockingbird Society. To Orr, the scarfs symbolize the optimism that change for the better is coming for youth experiencing homelessness and youth in foster care. “”To me the orange scarfs signify hope that the foster care system and programs that support youth experiencing homelessness will strive to get better each year. Not only for the youth experiencing homelessness or those living in foster care, but for the foster parents, social workers and everybody else who plays a critical role in the lives of children and young adults who are homeless or who live in the foster care system.