Town Halls in Georgia Show the Needs of Youth in Foster Care

Posted April 18, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people and partners lead a town hall on experiences of youth from foster care

Photo provided by Georgia EmpowerMEnt

Since 2016, Mul­ti-Agency Alliance for Chil­dren (MAAC) in Geor­gia — one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive® sites — has part­nered with the Divi­sion of Fam­i­ly and Chil­dren Ser­vices, the J.W. Fan­ning Insti­tute for Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment, com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and agen­cies to facil­i­tate youth town halls with local youth who are or have been in fos­ter care. The youth-led ses­sions also draw fos­ter par­ents and staff from MAAC and DFCS.

The goal? Hear from peo­ple who have expe­ri­enced the child wel­fare sys­tem as a way to guide improve­ment efforts.

And the approach appears to be working.

Sur­veys con­duct­ed at the ses­sions have helped to iden­ti­fy what youth care about most: con­nect­ed­ness, edu­ca­tion and safe, sta­ble hous­ing. DFCS uses this infor­ma­tion to inform pol­i­cy and prac­tice, includ­ing pol­i­cy on extend­ed fos­ter care — which enables young peo­ple to remain in care past age 18 — with sup­port for case plan­ning, hous­ing and con­nec­tions with extend­ed fam­i­ly mem­bers, peers and oth­ers as part of a life­long sup­port sys­tem. DFCS and part­ners are also work­ing to incor­po­rate oth­er pri­or­i­ties into their case plan­ning and prac­tice, includ­ing sup­port for LGBTQ youth and young parents.

The town halls, con­cep­tu­al­ized by state offi­cials, were real­ly designed as a pub­lic-pri­vate-com­mu­ni­ty part­ner­ship,” says Sarah Bess Hud­son, the lead facil­i­ta­tor at MAAC. Stake­hold­ers across the state par­tic­i­pat­ed and were able to learn what the biggest pri­or­i­ties were for youth — from youth.”

An impor­tant part­ner in this effort is Geor­gia Empow­er­MEnt, a lead­er­ship and advo­ca­cy ini­tia­tive found­ed by and for Geor­gia youth in fos­ter care, sup­port­ed by MAAC.

It’s crit­i­cal that the peo­ple who can make a change hear direct­ly from those who are most affect­ed,” says Michael Fulcher, a region­al impact liai­son with Empow­er­MEnt. Youth raise con­cerns that many staff are not aware of. For exam­ple, I learned that bul­ly­ing was a big­ger issue in our region — and hear­ing that made me want to find more resources for kids who were struggling.”

Beyond help­ing to build a bet­ter child wel­fare sys­tem, the young peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in the town halls also are gain­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to sharp­en their lead­er­ship and advo­ca­cy skills. The forum posi­tions youth to serve as lead­ers of small group dis­cus­sions, facil­i­ta­tors, time­keep­ers and pre­sen­ters. At every step, the pro­gram­ming pro­vides a plat­form for youth voic­es and experiences.

If there was one thing that I could say to oth­er youth who are invit­ed to a town hall, it would be to attend one and speak up,” says Eliz­a­beth, a youth facil­i­ta­tor who asked to be iden­ti­fied by her first name only. This is the time for your voice to be heard.”

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