As it stands, foster and emancipated youth agencies and non-profits that seek a youth perspective hire alumni between the ages of 18 and 24. This standard practice makes sense, given that more states are extending foster care services, they rely on federal money to serve this particular population and people find raw stories from fresh-faced youth emotionally compelling and conductive to their life’s work.
Without question, every entity is better served with consumer feedback. You need to know the output of your input. What services are working, not working and why? Also, young people are a hypnotic draw with their animated energy, awkward charm and blunt recollections of their dramatic lives.
But there’s a critical, unspoken void when it comes to life after foster care: What happens years after post-emancipation services end? How do former foster youth fare in the long run when they are truly on their own?
When I was in foster care, I never heard a former foster youth over 30 speak at my events or independent living classes. Not hearing from someone older with my experience was a disservice, since I often worried how people like me ended up. Will I end up homeless or a homeowner? Will I still be carrying all this emotional pain when I’m 40, 50, 60 years old? How do people like me get over their childhoods … or do they? Can they really learn to manage money well if they grew up with parents on welfare, like me? If they could relive their emancipation, what would they do differently?
Questions like these are common among foster youth. And only much older foster alumni can answer them.
Additionally, older foster alumni can be a source of inspiration since they have more life lessons and cautionary tales to share with the younger generation. Clients can also be served by hearing from older foster alumni who have regrets or don’t consider themselves successful. Youth could learn from their predecessor’s mistakes.
If you’re involved in holding a panel, roundtable or a speaking event about child welfare, consider adding one older foster alumni to diversify perspectives and gain wisdom that can only come with age. Organizations could also benefit from hiring older alumni on their own, too, depending on educational needs. A way to access this lost population is by searching and making announcements on social media, or asking around in your communities and churches. You can also get in touch when an older alumni is featured in a local newspaper or on television.
On the flip side, older foster alumni should Google local organizations and agencies, and reach out by offering to speak. You have a specialized perspective that the general population and younger emancipated youth simply do not have. Your unique voice is important and one I wish I was exposed to when it mattered the most.