Porsche (L, middle row) is pictured with TeamChild staff and Youth Advisory Board members on the steps of the capitol building in Olympia.

Back to the Future with the Youth Advisory Board

Sometimes you have to look back to see what’s up ahead. But first we must ask, why now? With so much change in our society we are finding that more and more harm is being done to our young people and young people are hurting—from the increase of juvenile incarceration, to youth suicide rates, a mental health crisis, and youth homelessness. We must truly examine what it means for youth to lead the change. Over the centuries, adults have held the power over youth without reflecting on the impact of that power. When you talk to young people, they have so much insight and knowledge to share that can in fact change their outcomes, create the least amount of harm and begin healing society. And that’s because, as Glenn E Martin stated, “those who are the closest to the problem are closest to the solutions.” That is the core of movement lawyering. And now is the time for it. 

As TeamChild has begun to expand its advocacy to movement lawyering, it has become more and more essential to center the voices of youth. Over the years we have centered our clients in our direct services, and it is only right to keep that model as we look to the future of TeamChild’s systemic advocacy.  In response to the pandemic’s impact on education and the school to prison pipeline, TeamChild partnered with five other Civil Legal Aid organizations to establish the Youth Education Law Collaborative (YELC). Through the Collaborative we established a Youth Advisory Board (YAB).  TeamChild and our community partners began to seek out youth across the state from the LGBTQIA and BIPOC community with lived experience in special education, mental health, juvenile justice involvement, foster care and homelessness.  Over the course of a year, TeamChild formed our first Youth Advisory Board, holding our first official meeting July 28th, 2022.  

For the next several months, the YAB participated in various trainings on Special Education, Movement Lawyering, Disability Rights and Freedom Schools, to name a few. As training progressed, this group of fifteen youth worked to identify the needs of their communities. By holding listening sessions in five counties with youth ranging from ages 12 to 24 years old, the YAB learned about their experiences since returning to school. Youth shared stories about the lack of communities in schools, insufficient mental health support, peer bullying, adult bullying, and racism.  With this information, the YAB identified their advocacy priorities. The YAB chose mental health resources in schools as their first issue to tackle as a group. They believe by addressing the lack of mental health support in schools, bullying, lack of communities in schools and racism will be addressed as well. These priorities will be instrumental in TeamChild’s future advocacy.  

This past President’s Day 2023, the YAB and TeamChild had the opportunity through community partnership with NW Credible Messengers and Civil Survival to participate in Transform Justice: Day of Action in Olympia. The youth made their voices heard through  meetings with their Senators, local legislative Representatives and staff. YAB Members shared their own experiences and their concerns for their peers to advocate for bills they felt passionate about. I am grateful for the privilege to sit in meetings with such a great group of youth. They spoke about the impact that isolation and restraint had on them – from the trauma, lack of proper support services, to the need for more mental health services in schools. YAB members spoke from the heart about hurdles to accessing safe shelters and housing assistance and the need to increase the length of time youth can stay in licensed shelters. They addressed the need to raise the age for juvenile court involvement to 13 years old due to brain development.   

As we continue to build out this program, we hope to expand the power and reach of youth voice by growing our relationships and following guidance from young people who are directly impacted by failures of these systems. YAB members are already beginning to talk about what it looks like to advocate in Olympia next year, with the hope of championing their own bill to present to legislators. The YAB looks forward to returning to their communities with ideas and strategies to advocate for change and continue to incorporate community guidance in their work, while also collaborating with the YELC to strategize and implement their priorities across organizations. With future funding we hope to continue supporting the YAB,  build community resources, support trainings, provide direct legal service, identify and fight systemic issues and overall make systemic change centering youth throughout Washington.

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