The child welfare system is not designed to meet the unique needs of transition-age youth in foster care. Youth often leave care unprepared for the transition to adulthood, without adequate resources, permanent connections, and support, and nearly 20,000 young people age out of care every year without the consistency and support of a permanent family. As a result of their time in care, young adults face high rates of negative outcomes, including homelessness, incarceration, poverty, and mental illness.
In February 2023, Think of Us held an in-person convening with the Children’s Bureau and a diverse group of 20 youth and young adult Ambassadors from across the country. The convening created an opportunity to ensure federal child welfare policymakers have the input and expertise of individuals with lived experience in the child welfare system to inform their work in this space.
To prepare for the convening, Ambassadors went through training and were asked to process crowdsourced ideas, advocacy reports, and the perspectives of others with lived experience through the lens of their own proximity. As they worked with federal policymakers to inform the agency's workplan, the Ambassadors were not simply experts in their own stories, but subject matter experts.
Our hope is that this convening will help the ecosystem move beyond simple engagement and toward full integration of lived experience in the policy process. We believe this effort builds on the tireless efforts of the organizations and individuals who fight to give impacted communities a seat at the table.
The read-out report and National Town Hall serve as commitments to this shift and a call to action for all federal, state, and local agencies to take an interagency collaborative approach and pull the community into everything they are doing to support transition-age youth.
For the convening, Think of Us wanted to create a new model to move from engagement to integration of lived experience. In the traditional engagement paradigm, we have asked those with lived experience to rely on their own personal narratives to create insights. With the convening Ambassadors, we asked them to process crowdsourced ideas, advocacy reports, and the perspectives of others with lived experience through the lens of their own proximity.