White text on turquoise background reads: VY VU Pierce County Case Support and Outreach Specialist

Youth Voice – Are We Listening?

My name is Vy, and my role at TeamChild is Case Support & Outreach Specialist. That means that at the Pierce County office, I do everything non-legal to support our youth clients. For example, a young person is going through the process of becoming emancipated (in other words, to become a legal adult without being of legal age). I go right alongside, triple team, with the young person and their attorney to help them navigate every step of the way. There are the legal components to a young person’s solution, and often other relevant issues to tackle for them to be able to thrive, like finding housing, food, employment, healthcare – all of which are the bare minimum necessities of survival that every human deserves. A lot of my guidance comes from my own lived experience with homelessness and working as a provider in a non-profit organization – navigating the system both inside and out. That means that I can see through a similar lens as a young person and walk alongside them not just as their Case Support & Outreach Specialist, but as a peer who’s gone through the same systems.

Right now, we’re in a terribly high barrier system that is designed to oppress people. And breaking down those systems is a big idea that’s going to take a long time before we’re able to make any change. With youth-led advocacy in particular, something I think about a lot is how much we’re asking of young people. Our systems aren’t providing the support needed for young people to hone their independence and grow in their professional or personal life on top of all the trauma they are going through, whether that’s homelessness or foster care or discrimination at school. Adults who are leading the way don’t necessarily know what they’re doing either in order to guide young people in a safe and healthy approach through life – because seeing young people on a peer-to-peer basis has never been modeled for them.

One thing I wish more folks knew is that just because young people might have less years of life experience, doesn’t mean they don’t have their own experiences, their own unique values and perspectives. Adults don’t always realize that young people are navigating the same harmful systems that they once did – it’s just a different version of the same oppression impacting a new generation. I do think we see a lot more conversation around and attempts to incorporate youth voice into the conversation and into decisions. Yet, in reality, there is no transparency in the logistics of the process in advocating for the rights of youth, nor the inclusion of youth in highler level conversations. Nothing is happening in response to those voices being heard – no informed opinions and decisions of young people are considered and then put into actionable items. Even though there are some resources allocated, or some change implemented, it’s almost like people sometimes expect a thank you from young people: “We listened to you. Shouldn’t that be enough?” Actually, I think that’s the bare minimum. Young people should be able to co-design solutions to problems impacting them, and be actively involved at the table for how we implement those changes. That’s why my work with young people at TeamChild, and the work of The Mockingbird Society and Campaign to end Youth and Young Adult Homelessness is so important. Because whether it’s young people giving feedback about how we can improve our legal work, or young people shaping policies, or schools, we need to have those youth stakeholders at the table for each stage of the process – from ideas to implementation.

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