October is Foster Youth Voice Month, a national campaign led by Selfless Love Foundation to elevate the voices of youth with lived experience in the child welfare care system. This submission is a part of our collaborative series to raise awareness about issues that impact youth with lived experience and highlight their voices.
My name is Justyce Callisto, and I’m 23. I have 10 years of experience in foster care and eight years as a lived-experience leader (youth advocate). I was around 2 years old when I entered foster care. I, of course, don’t remember my time in foster care at that age, but the second time I entered I was 12, and I remember much more. I will never forget having 23 placements between the ages of 12 and 18. No one took the time to listen to me and understand what was going on.
Today, I am a youth advocate because I believe people need to listen to the voices of young people in care. They know themselves better than others, even if they cannot articulate their needs. I never felt heard, and because of that, at just 14 years old, I was deemed unstable to the community. I know that if just one person had taken the time to understand me, I wouldn’t have experienced a lot of the trauma I did.
Youth voices are critical. We know what we are thinking and feeling. I was 15 when I finally spoke up. The people in my team meeting were stunned when they allowed me to speak for the first time. I was uncertain about what I would say since I didn’t believe they would listen. That meeting was my chance to express my own thoughts, opinions, and feelings on treatment instead of everyone else saying and deciding what was best for me. They were so surprised by my knowledge of my case and the treatment I received that they actually listened. That meeting opened the door for me to continue to have a voice in my treatment plan because they continued to listen to what I had to say and almost always implemented my ideas into the treatment plan. I finally felt heard and that feeling and knowledge helped me start to get better and succeed in my life. I no longer had to find ways to make them listen.
This is why we should have a voice in meetings and anything involving us. A youth’s perspective is the biggest missing piece of the puzzle that no one seems to think about until it’s too late. For half of my life, the people around me didn’t listen to me or let me speak up about what I needed, and because of that, I spent the majority of my life broken and engulfed in darkness and chaos. I decided to sign out of the foster care system when my needs were not being met. I would not let my voice be silenced again. Every foster youth’s voice is valid. I will continue to use mine to help others find the strength to stand up and use their’s to give them a better outcome in life.