What is Youth Leadership?ifcayouth
Hello. My name is David Inglish, and I am the Communications Coordinator for Alumni Programs at the International Foster Care Alliance. I was in care for 10 years in Washington State, and I aged out earlier this year.
Today, my fellow presenter and I are going to be talking about two topics that are important to us within the Washington State Foster Care System.
For my presentation, I would like to focus on the role of youth leadership within the United States, and the various models within Washington State and how it applies to Japan.
So, what does “youth leadership” mean? Well, one popular phrase that has been used is, “no decision about me, without me.”
What this means is straightforward: everyone should have the right to be heard when an influential decision is being made that will impact them. For example, labor unions in the US and Japan were created to give equal ground, equal rights, and equal voice for workers within the workplace. Similarly, youth leadership is training and development of youth so that they be at equal ground with the rest of adult society, so that they may advocate for equal rights and create positive change.
What youth leadership looks like may take several forms, which we will be looking at later in this presentation. However, youth leadership can be as simple as youth sharing their stories in foster care to inspire change or as complex as youth leading other youth in workshops, youth presenting at conferences not unlike this, or even youth advising organizations on best policies, programs, and practices.
So, why is youth leadership important? Well, think of it like politics; it is almost the exact same thing. We want a representative who knows our struggles, our successes, our needs and wants. If you give this representation, then this population will have a voice and more than that, they will be able to make an impact on the future of this great nation and be great leaders in their own right. These are just some of the important reasons why youth leadership is important.
In terms of the models that we will look at can be somewhat compartmentalized as these four types: youth development, youth advocacy, advisory, leadership. As you can see here, some important parts of these are things like skill building, social change, political competency, and community mobilization.
The first organization we are going to look at is Fosterclub. Actually based in Oregon, this national non-profit organization is nonetheless very influential in youth development across the nation and one that I have extensive experience with.
Founded in 1999 by Celeste Bohdner as a community organization for all foster youth and foster families, this non-profit now does youth leadership and advocacy for youth rights.
Fosterclub is known to get funding from grants from other organizations, but their All-Star Internship which I will talk about later operates on a fee-for-service basis. Finally, Fosterclub does accept donations.
The notable feature of Fosterclub is the All-Star Internship I mentioned. The internship takes place twice every summer, each session being eight weeks long. Around 20 current and former foster youth get accepted from around the country to participate in this internship, where they are flown to Seaside, Oregon and hosted there with living stipends. In the internship, youth learn skills like strategic sharing of their own story, they learn leadership skills and travel the country presenting, and they learn how to advocate for youth rights. I personally loved both of my terms as an All-Star, first learning to lead, and then the next year helping youth become leaders and leading them.
The second organization is the Mockingbird Society which is a Seattle-based non-profit. It was started in 2000 by Jim Theofalis as a way to give foster youth a voice in policy and develop youth skills. It has since grown to six regional chapters for foster youth, and includes a project on homeless youth and a project called the Mockingbird Family Model which IFCA has presented on before.
In terms of funding, Mockingbird has similar sources to Fosterclub with fee-based services, grants, and donations.
The most notable feature of Mockingbird is the Youth Advocacy Cycle, which is a year round cycle focused on developing youth advocates and passing bills aimed at improving the lives of foster youth. This previous advocacy session, we helped propose four bills and support several others. Three of those four bills were passed after Mockingbird youth marched through Washington State’s capital and met with legislators on why these bills were needed. For the rest of the year, these youth come together to develop new bills to propose to legislation, and create game plans on how to get it made into law.
The next organization is Passion 2 Action, which is a youth advocacy program created by the independent living programs of the state. Founded in 2005, Passion 2 Action focuses on helping youth become leaders through workshops, activities, and even advising on policies and programs that are being developed. The core of Passion 2 Action is based in giving youth the opportunity to influence programs in the state that impact foster youth.
The most notable features of Passion to Action is the Advisory Board itself, and the Pride Training opportunities. Youth from around the state are paid to travel to Seattle where the board meets every five or so weeks and develop their skills, work on programs, and socialize with other youth.
Once they become actual members of the board, they are able to travel to foster parent trainings throughout the state and give the perspective of foster care through the eyes of a youth. This is a paid opportunity, and has lately become an increasingly popular idea within the United States to the point where some states are mandating that youth be present at these foster parent trainings to give that perspective.
Finally, an organization near and dear to my heart. The International Foster Care Alliance was founded in 2013 by the amazing Miho Awazu and is primarily a youth leadership non-profit.
Using funding mainly from grants and donations, IFCA helps current and former foster youth from the US and Japan becoming leaders in their countries and communities, and gives them the opportunity to collaborate with other foster youth from around the world. At this moment, IFCA has worked with communities in Argentina, Iceland, the US, and Japan, and does not plan to stop there. IFCA is also home to the world’s first bilingual blog for foster youth.
In the downtime between the two international trips the foster youth take, IFCA members work on presenting their work to larger communities and at conferences, and collaborate with each other to help make a change in the foster care experience. And this is just in this organization’s infancy stages, who knows what they will do?
Now all this is all fine to hear about, but why does this matter to you. Well, there are several reasons.
Youth are the best experts on the teenage experience and we should regard them as that. If we do not recognize their experiences as being valid enough to impact decisions made for them, like policy and programs, than we are invalidating these lives and setting a precedent that they do not matter enough to decide what is best for them
This is important because, like America, Japan’s teenage population is struggling with many issues. Time magazine and BBC spin narratives of youth in this generation struggling to find jobs, struggling to be heard, and struggling with depression. However, America is creating more organizations and supports for youth and alumni of care. Where are similar services in Japan?
This is a narrative I’m sure none of you want to hear, and neither do I. Who better to look to at this moment than those going through these struggles—what do they see as a solution, what is their perspective, where do we go from here?
Finally, youth leadership does not just impact them; it impacts everyone. If we build strong youth so that they become strong leaders, we as a country and as a world prosper for it. And the thing is, it is not hard to do. Things like mentoring and youth/adult partnerships are ways to improve decision-making around child welfare while allowing youth to have voices and grow into leadership.
The United Nations and Unicef have both created reports on child welfare around the world. The UN report shows that Japan’s child welfare system is grossly underperforming. Unicef says there simply isn’t enough data. These are statuses that can’t be sustained for the improvement of this great country. Change needs to start now, and can start with you.
And that concludes my presentation. Thank you so much for your time. If you have any questions about my presentation, about IFCA, or about the other work I do, please come talk to me or reach me at my email. Thank you very much.
This post is also available in: Japanese