In 2022, the Youth Voices Rising team at Fostering Media Connections was proud to work with dozens of current and former foster youth with child welfare, homelessness, and juvenile justice experience to share their stories in writing and at online events.
The Youth Voices Rising program has grown by leaps and bounds since last year. This year, more than 140 Youth Voices Rising pieces were published in The Imprint and Fostering Families Today. Several local partners, including the Seattle Times, co-published this work, increasing the visibility of foster youth’s voices.
As the year comes to an end, here is a collection of some of our top Youth Voices Rising stories of 2022.
Youth Voices Rising collaborated with local Los Angeles outlet Knock LA on a series that lifted up the policy and practice ideas of young people on the city’s first Youth Commission. In one of those pieces, Commissioner Jacqueline Robles wrote about how the failure to invest in youth while they’re in foster care costs the government much more down the road.
“Budgets allocated to sustaining mass incarceration and addressing homelessness, as well as the economic losses attached to low support of those with low educational attainment, prove that there is enough money to financially support foster youth when they age out of the child welfare system,” Robles said.
Jessica Castillo produced a number of great pieces during 2022, including the winning essay in our annual writing and poetry contest. In her essay, she takes readers through her changing view of the meaning of safety in life as she experienced a removal from her home that led to her entry into foster care, and then turned 18:
“Safety, to me, is still familiarity, certainty, and routine. It’s what I always craved that I never had. Today, I don’t view things through rose-colored lenses the way I did when I was a child in foster care.”
Chicago-based visual artist J. Iniguez wrote about what the 2012 death of Paige Clay, a foster youth who was shot and killed in Chicago, says about the child welfare system’s support and protection of transgender youth. Iniguez argues that if the system had better supported Clay while she was in foster care, she would still be alive.
“The welfare system only treats its patrons as numbers and not as human beings. We become property of the state, but the state claims no responsibility for our wellbeing,” Iniguez writes.
Youth Voices Rising collaborated with the Seattle Times to lift up the experience of two Washington foster youth trying to navigate college. Nelly Braxton wrote about how high school life as a youth in foster care failed to prepare her for the next level.
“As a young person who has experienced both foster care and homelessness, schooling has always been something I loved to do,” Braxton writes. “But managing school while being in the system was a hurdle that took me years to overcome.”
Esther Taylor lost her mother, and also lost her connection to stable housing, while trying to stay above water in school.
“Going to college was one of the most pivotal times in my life, and I needed her to get through it,” Taylor writes of her mom. “I hate that she’s not able to see the growth I’ve made in my life from 15 years old to 23 years old.”
For many youth who have experienced foster care, writes Sky Lea Ross, the student debt crisis in America requires much more than a $10,000 forgiveness plan like the one announced this year by the Biden administration.
“When we talk about what college students go through, we’re commonly referring to the typical American,” she writes. “These individuals probably come from a nuclear family and have financial support from their parents or relatives. We hardly ever think about how these issues affect former foster youth.”
Youth Voices Rising published several powerful pieces from youth with lived experience about the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and left decisions around the restriction of access to abortion to states.
In her piece, Ash Barcus explored the unintended consequences for current and former foster youth of the court’s ruling.
“While it doesn’t just affect foster youth, like most major changes in law or society, the marginalized groups get hit the hardest and we need to protect people from further hardship,” Barcus writes.
In another piece following the Dobbs decision, Ricardo Ortega Martinez laments what he views as the brokenness of the U.S. political system, and provides the foster youth’s perspective on other rights in jeopardy after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“We must understand that to create change, we must elect and hold our officials accountable for their decisions to create and correct the law,” Ortega Martinez writes.
Lexi Borgeson, one of several Minnesota writers to work with Youth Voices Rising this year, writes eloquently about the way foster care can intermingle and inflame previous trauma.
“The stigma placed on me when telling someone I am a former Foster often goes one of two ways,” Borgeson writes. “One: they tell me how resilient I am without acknowledging that resiliency wasn’t a choice. Two: they place me into a tiny box they’ve created in their heads, which always accompanies negative connotations.”
Jacqueline Robles had praise for the writers and producers of the television series Queen Sugar, which focuses partly on foster care in its final season. Robles commended the show for capturing the nuances of the system while also capturing the impact of incarceration on families.
“Foster care is very complex, and there are so many systems to navigate when you’re in it. I hope more television shows like Queen Sugar offer opportunities to show the complexities of the child welfare system,” she writes.
In an extremely powerful piece, Lino Peña-Martinez describes his journey and the people who helped shape the kind of man he became.
“To all the father figures I had in strange places, I love you, I adore you,” he writes. “I ask nothing of you and give it all back, to you and to others in the currencies that mean the most: time, energy, patience, and love without conditions.”
We look forward to 2023 as the Youth Voices Rising program continues to create and expand spaces, both in journalism and events, for centered and grounded conversations from current and former foster youth.