October 22, 2020
Innovative program empowers youth in foster care
“There is no one in a better position to prepare advocates and child welfare professionals to work effectively with children and youth in foster care than young people who have been there themselves,” says Kerry Moles, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of New York City (CASA-NYC).
This is the philosophy behind CASA-NYC’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC), an initiative that was recognized with National CASA/GAL’s Promising Practices Spotlight Award, which highlights a successful, replicable practice that exemplifies creativity in a program’s pursuit to provide that quality advocacy.
The YLC, which began at CASA-NYC in 2018, is an innovative project that empowers youth who have experienced foster care to use their voices to advocate for improvements in child welfare services. They have trained hundreds of volunteer advocates, case workers, attorneys, family court judges and other stakeholders on best practices for supporting youth in foster care. They also speak with younger people currently in foster care about their experiences aging out of the system and serve as role models. They have met with local, state and federal policy makers and appeared on national television shows to advocate for policy change.
When the program began, CASA-NYC, along with a partner agency, developed a training curriculum for an initial group of YLC members. The focused training prepared the YLC members to share their experiences in foster care in a way that is emotionally safe for them and their audiences. The YLC members serve as ambassadors and credible messengers for best-interest advocacy and the value of CASA volunteers. In doing so, they earn a stipend, build their own skills in advocacy and communication and gain access to a supportive network of peers.
“This project furthers CASA’s mission to provide high-quality advocacy for abused and neglected children in foster care,” said Moles. “It ensures the inclusion of people with lived experience in foster care in our decision-making about program policies and practices, and amplifies their voices within the child welfare system locally and nationally.”
The YLC is supported by CASA-NYC staff, who also work with members toward the achievement of their educational and employment goals. Several YLC members have noted that CASA-NYC has become their strongest support system, as they lean on their peers and staff and form lasting relationships with volunteers.
The YLC members are involved in the CASA-NYC program’s training, strategic planning, hiring and racial equity committees. They provide unique insights related to supporting youth in foster care that can only be gleaned from someone who has this lived experience. The unique input of the YLC has influenced training and program practices, and it has strengthened CASA-NYC’s ability to deliver informed and quality advocacy and volunteer training.