Network Forms to Train Foster Youth on Advocacy

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A national organization launched last month hopes to train former foster youth to educate lawmakers and state and local system leaders about what works in child welfare.

The National Foster Youth Action Network declared itself open for business in May, starting with affiliates in California, Oregon and Indiana.

The organization was born out of the work of its California affiliate, California Youth Connections (CYC), which was founded in 1988 and has developed chapters across the state.

“I had always been impressed with the process” used by CYC to advocate on issues, said Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates, the sponsor of the Indiana affiliate.

The plan is for existing advocacy organizations to create affiliates of the national organization. Children First for Oregon will sponsor the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, and Indianapolis-based Child Advocates will operate the Foster Youth Connection of Indiana.

Those affiliates will set their agendas locally, with assistance from the national network.

“Each youth group will identify its own advocacy and leadership goals, so the Action Network does not take on anything ourselves,” said network Executive Director Janet Knipe. “We only train, coach and support youth [at those affiliates] to reach the goals they identify.”

Booth, of Child Advocates, said she first assembled her group of youth just before she heard about Knipe’s effort to form a national network. Since the group’s first meeting, it has been completely youth-led, she said.

“I don’t go to their meetings. They’re working on what they want to do,” she said. “They want to meet the legislators this session.”

The United Way of Central Indiana paid the affiliate membership fee, and Booth is hoping it will pay for a trip to California so her group can watch CYC’s young advocates in action.

The national office is a one-woman show managed by Knipe, who was previously the director of CYC. She plans to add a young adult training and policy coordinator this month.

Funders for the network include the 21st Century Foundation, Silicon Valley Social Ventures and the Stuart Foundation. Knipe said community foundations in Oregon and Indiana have also contributed to the projects in those states.