California Youth Connection

Posted on December 6, 2018

Engaging youth to advocate for changes to the child welfare system

Policymakers at all levels increasingly recognize the value of youth voice in crafting effective policies to support young people and their families. However, for youth engagement to be authentic and successful, it is essential to provide welcoming spaces and conscientiously equip young people with the skills and knowledge to effectively participate in policymaking forums. Recognizing this, for thirty years, California Youth Connection (CYC) has worked to develop youth into leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative, policy, and practice change. CYC does this by creating community among current and former foster youth and providing them with skills, guidance and opportunities to affect change by drawing on their experiences and those of their peers. As a result of their integrity and persistence, CYC has become a vital and well-respected voice in Sacramento. During the past state legislative session, Governor Brown signed into law two bills conceived through CYC’s member-led process conducted during its 2017 Summer Leadership and Policy Conference:

  • AB 2247 (Gipson) declares the intent of the legislature that no child or youth should experience abrupt placement changes, and any placement changes that must occur are carried out with utmost respect, consideration, and in a youth-centered way
  • AB 2448 (Gibson) supports youth in out-of-home placements to safely and securely use computer technology and the Internet to complete school assignments, gain important career skills, stay connected to supportive family members, and experience age-appropriate activities

Additionally, to strengthen its advocacy at the local level, CYC created Bay Area Youth Leadership Academy (BAYLA), a 10-week leadership development program for youth ages 18-24, who are currently or formerly in foster care. In BAYLA, young leaders develop professional networks while gaining leadership, facilitation, communication, project development and organizing skills, as well as an understanding of social, economic and political systems and power. They do this through six full days of training, weekly personalized coaching from a professional advocate, and a supervised, four-week externship at an advocacy-oriented non-profit organization. In addition to benefitting the youth participants, coaches and externship supervisors gain an appreciation for youth voice and how to effectively create spaces for young people to contribute to the policymaking process. After three years of implementing and refining the model, CYC recently developed a BAYLA replication guide to make this program available in other parts of the state and country, thereby engaging even more young people in policy advocacy at the state and local levels