April 10, 2015
From: Emmie Brunelle, College Student and Foster Care Alumni
The idea of having youth at the table of policy work, curriculum development, and any sort of meetings deemed exclusive to professional workers has been both scary to some while exciting for others. While I understand both sides of this, I’ve come to enjoy the reality that having youth at the table is more than just a body filling a seat. A youth voice that is allowed to speak their mind and be heard while being a catalyst for change because of lived experience creates more change than any room full of professionals could do. This is not to say that professionals aren’t good at their job or even that they never get anything done. What I am saying is that having youth involved in work that is about them is vital to the success of any policy, curriculum, or vision one may have for youth. If you want to make change for a group of people, having multiple voices from the population involved will make all the difference in how your efforts benefit or completely miss those you are trying to help.
My background is a foster youth alumni and a member of both the mental health and LGBTQ community, from the state of Wyoming who has done work on a National level for foster care. This includes the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), consulting and interning with the National Resource Center for Youth Development, and working in both Wyoming and Oregon to create change for foster youth in any way that I can lend to. From these experiences and the past four years of advocacy work, I have learned that the best way to be a true trauma informed organization that serves youth; you must have youth at the table. Not just one figurative table but also all of the tables, events, policy and curriculum development planning that seeks to help them, or the work falls short of doing just that.
While I could write out everything I know about starting an organization or involving youth in your work, the best and most important thing I could tell you is to simply start by asking them. Invite them to be a part of what you want to do and let them have a say in what is going to happen and how that is going to look. Be willing to let your vision fit their experiences and vice versa. Most importantly, there are youth in every state from foster care, the mental health system, juvenile justice and more that want to change systems just like you – be willing to let them.
To aid those who are looking to do more work with youth in their states and organization, here are just some of the resources available to you to begin this work in an informed manner:
Examples of Organizations who are youth-led or have youth input: