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.
A child’s voice. What does that mean to you? When you think about yourself at a young age, do you remember a time when your parents did not listen to you? Maybe you got in trouble and instead of listening to and accepting your simple explanation for why you did something a certain way, they assumed your motive and punished you according to that assumption. Do you remember how that made you feel? Betrayed maybe, or scared, confused, angry? Maybe even sad or hurt? Or perhaps a mix of all those emotions. Now imagine feeling that on a daily basis as a child of the foster care system.
Throughout my life, my childhood voice was not heard or respected. What do I mean by that? No matter how many times I said “no” to something that I did not like, such as abuse, being separated from my siblings, or expressing my frustrations about the broken foster care system, adults never stopped to listen. They “heard” me without really listening to me, as if my words went in one ear and out the other. When I became an adult, I decided to be the voice for children who had no voice. This is where my advocacy journey began.
I remember the first time I shared my story with an audience. It was nerve-racking, but their rapt attention filled me with a sense of hope. Was I finally going to be heard? After my first speaking event, more opportunities fell into my lap. People also started asking for my advice on different subjects. Recently at the Youth Care Providers Conference in Pierre, South Dakota, the audience not only heard me, they asked questions, they asked for advice, and they took notes. It was incredible! I was leading a group of youth who were ready to share their voice in hopes that they might be heard, too.
How do you really listen to a child’s voice? Maybe you think you are already doing everything you possibly can to hear them. I’m here to say there is always more that can be done. Start by letting your child express what they want, and let them be involved in the decision making. The child may not know all their options, or they may be confused or conflicted about what they want. When these issues arise, let the child know what their options are and the pros and cons of each choice. Helping to guide a child through the system ensures that they do not feel alone.
Back to my question, what does “a child’s voice” mean to you? I hope after reading this, you have a better understanding and feel inspired to be a voice for the voiceless.