Two alumnae of foster care shared their suggestions for Virginia’s foster care system with state legislators on Wednesday during a meeting of the Commission on Youth (COY), a bipartisan group that studies and makes policy recommendations on complex issues related to youth and families.
Tiffany Haynes, age 24, and Sophia Booker, age 27, relished the opportunity to speak to policymakers and credited Voices for Virginia’s Children with providing them with the necessary training and support to do so.
Both women connected to us when they were participants in Great Expectations, a community-college-access program for students who experienced foster care. Specifically, Voices policy analyst Allison Gilbreath led advocacy trainings for Great Expectations students. These trainings equipped the women to stand before state lawmakers during Wednesday’s COY meeting.
“A few months ago, I participated in an advocacy training hosted by Voices for Virginia’s Children where we had the opportunity to practice sharing our personal experiences in the foster care system and provide recommendations on things we would like to see changed,” Tiffany told legislators. “I would like to thank you for understanding the importance of speaking directly with impacted youth. Often, decisions are made without our involvement or input, resulting in greater frustration.”
Sophia concurred: “I would like to thank the Commission on Youth for giving youth like myself a microphone to share our experiences and use them to improve the systems we were affected by.”
Tiffany and Sophia told lawmakers of their support for legislation passed earlier this year, which directs the Department of Social Services (DSS), in coordination with the COY, to develop a process and standardized survey to gather feedback from children aging out of foster care. The young women think the feedback will provide valuable insights on ways to improve the foster care system.
Tiffany said many children in foster care face education deficits resulting in part from frequent moves. She also mentioned her personal struggle in maintaining continuity of medical care once she turned 21 and aged out of the city of Richmond’s foster care system. To address such lapses in care, Voices launched Fostering Health VA to educate alumni of foster care about their Medicaid eligibility from ages 18‒26.
Sophia, who assisted Allison with many of our advocacy trainings for youth aging out of foster care, said a consistent theme that emerged from those trainings was the inability of many youth to obtain a driver’s license, often due to monetary constraints.
“Only three percent of former foster youth obtained a driver’s license by the time they turned 18, as compared to 60 percent of youth not in foster care,” Sophia told policymakers. “I hope the Commission on Youth will take a look at this issue in Virginia and remove barriers for youth in foster care to obtain a driver’s license to help them foster independence.”
Through our advocacy work on Fostering Futures and other initiatives, we have supported youth in foster care on issues like the ones raised by Tiffany and Sophia—issues that underscore the barriers foster care youth face when they attempt to transition to healthy, stable, independent adult lives.
We will use the results of the DSS survey on foster care youth to inform our future advocacy efforts. In the meantime, we continue offering advocacy trainings to Great Expectations participants like Tiffany and Sophia, empowering more youth in foster care to have a voice.
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