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.
Youth and young adults in foster care are more than just what they’ve experienced in child welfare. Their voices matter and should be heard. I had the opportunity to speak in front of legislators to advocate for the passing of SB 151 Foster Youth Bill of Rights in Louisiana. This experience changed my life. I am inspired to continue to use my voice to help improve the child welfare system for youths and young adults.
In May of 2021, Louisiana passed the first-ever Foster Youth Bill of Rights. This law gives youths ages 12 and older in foster care 18 legal rights, such as the right to have sleepovers, to obtain a driver’s license, to have a loving and stable home, and more. The law changed everything for youth and young adults in Louisiana’s child welfare system. The development of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights consisted of an on-going collaboration with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Louisiana Elite Advocacy Force (LEAF), and legislators. This collaboration led to giving youth the power to make decisions for themselves, to have rights, and to be treated as human beings.
While testifying at the state capitol in Baton Rouge, I received feedback from legislators. They said my message was powerful and that it expressed urgency for the passing of the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. The passion behind my voice helped carry the message about the importance for youths to have rights and to be seen as humans. My voice and my opinion brought people in the room to tears. I was able to make a small difference and touch people’s hearts. It made me feel worthy. After witnessing the power of my voice and story, I feel empowered and encouraged to continue advocating for change. I remember what it was like to not have the right to speak for myself in courtroom hearings. When I did speak up, nobody listened. I was constantly having to defend myself against others. Those experiences made me feel voiceless, unworthy, and disrespected as a person. Changing that outlook required growth, support, and a belief that my voice matters and I have a story to tell! Youths and young adults in foster care want to be acknowledged for who they are as individuals and they want to be heard. It is a right all humans deserve!