On the Road with FMC

A Child-Driven, Child-First Future

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When we look at the political future of our nation, all can easily seem bleak. The challenges are ever-growing, and our efforts are a murmur against the thunderous tide coming our way. While I watch and fight that which threatens America's greatness with grave concern, I have a different vision for the future. That vision lies in the power of children, and more specifically foster children.

Let's take stock of what is true. In my home state, the California Youth Connection (CYC), an advocacy group run by and for current and former foster youth, is a clear political force. With hundreds of dedicated members and the ability to organize efficiently, California politicians listen to what CYC has to say.

The founder of CYC, Janet Knipe, has taken the model and applied it on a national scale, signing up affiliated youth-run advocacy groups in Indiana, Virginia, Mississippi, and Oregon under the umbrella of the National Foster Youth Action Network. This summer the affiliated Oregon Children's Action Network vociferously lobbied for college tuition waivers for former foster youth. I delighted as my Google alerts and Facebook pages popped up with familiar names--Pamela Butler and Jamie Hinsz--cogently arguing their points on TV and in newsprint.

Across the nation in Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families is working with young people to create the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni. In neighboring Connecticut, I had the chance to visit with current foster youth who were part of Casey Family Services' Youth Advocacy Lead-ership Academy. While I was discussing the use of guerilla media tactics, I mentioned all the other youth groups across the country and one young man matter-of-factly said, "We just got to get everybody together and bang this out." Indeed.

It is further south in Washington, DC, where we see the cohesion of the child-driven, child-first political movement at its apex. Since 2003, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) has hosted a very special group of summer interns on Capitol Hill--foster youth. This summer, 15 young leaders worked in offices ranging from that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to Representative and presidential candidate Michele Bach-mann (R-Minn.). The internship culminated with a Congressional Briefing in which the youth presented their policy recommendations in a report entitled "The Future of Foster Care: A Revolution for Change." The report makes recommendations on issues like immigration, education, mentoring, psychotropic drugs, child abuse, and government accountability.

In the report's introduction, CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman, who has mentored and helped scores of youth who have come through the program, reminds us of the power these young leaders have: "It is sometimes said that a true leader is not one who leads you down an already established road, but rather a person who has the courage and the vision to forge a new path... We can no longer sit idly in despair while tens of thousands of our nation's future leaders are deprived of the things they need to achieve their God-given potential."

When that God-given potential is unleashed, the youth voice will be the thunder, and our worries about the future the murmur.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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