Voices’ Blog

Voices Recent Trip to the White House

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

In Creole’ (Black, Indigenous and French) families, it is common for someone in the family to have an ancestral gift of hearing or even seeing from their ancestors who have passed over – I have this unique gift in my family. For me, it appears most often in my keen intuition of knowing which way to go, what someone needs to hear, or a gut feeling to speak the truth. Four years ago, my ancestors came to me in a vivid vision giving me the idea to start a youth advocacy cohort, giving youth who directly experienced the systems I was working to change the opportunity to educate lawmakers directly with my support. I had been so frustrated sitting in meetings with people who had never spent a day in foster care, or experienced poverty, but had access to change these systems. Later that year, I was presented an opportunity to become a CHAMPS partner and with it came a grant opportunity with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to make the vision my ancestors showed me a reality.

My social work student intern at the time was Sophia Booker, a former foster youth and advocate, currently working at UMFS, who was passionate about youth voice in the foster care system. Sophia was instrumental in making our very first cohort a success. She was not only a builder of the cohort with me, but a participant herself where she shared passionately her experience in care and how she’d like to see the system changed.

Since then, Voices has continued to have youth advocacy days, expanding into all of our areas of focus. Ultimately, this has led us to building a permanent youth council at the organization that we are in the process of piloting.

In the past three years, our youth advocacy cohorts have become more well known across the country as a model for how to engage youth voice in policy making. In mid-May, my partner with CHAMPS emailed that there was an opportunity for us to attend a White House roundtable discussion with the Domestic Policy Council to discuss foster care. In addition, they wanted me to identify a youth who could speak to their direct experience and give policy recommendations. I immediately contacted Sophia to see if she was interested, and who says no to the White House?

The White House invited six states to their roundtable discussion. Knowing this made Sophia and I both feel incredibly special to have been chosen to be there. As we walked into the White House Diplomat room I closed my eyes and thought of my ancestors—I wondered, “is this what you saw for me when you came to give me the youth advocacy idea?” I could have never envisioned myself in this room then.

Sophia and the other youth invited gave gut wrenching testimony on their experiences in the foster care system and what needs to change. Members of the council shed silent tears and we listened to their stories.

Some of the highlights that I will never forget were:

“My adoption lasted two weeks. That should NEVER happen.”

“I had my son in my twenties and I lived with my entire family. In my indigenous culture that is normal, but social services was at my door wondering why there were so many people in the home. There is no understanding of culture.”

“Kinship care can make a hopeless system into a hopeful system, but in order to do that, kinship families need resources. In New Jersey, we did a siblings bill of rights. My siblings were able to stay together because my grandmother took us all in, but most kids in foster care don’t get that opportunity.”

“I lived in a religious foster care group home, but I’m Gay. They tried to tell me I wasn’t or change me and that caused tremendous trauma. So I’m advocating for LGBTQ+ youth because many of us experience homelessness, including me.”

The White House Domestic Policy Council shared that the President is committed to investing in improvements to the Foster Care system, including making a $100 billion investment in the child welfare sector —focusing on prevention and kinship care. I am hopeful that there will be more opportunities to weigh in on these changes in the future and am more inspired than ever to continue listening to directly impacted individuals and give them the microphone to share their stories with lawmakers.

The White House released this brief about the roundtable.

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