January 26th was Youth Advocacy Day, or YAD! It’s the culminating event of Mockingbird’s advocacy cycle. Every year, people from all corners of the state gather in Olympia for YAD because it’s a great chance to meet likeminded people, talk to your legislator, and take a stand for young people across the state — and this year was no different.
Dear Friends and Allies, Child abuse and neglect are perhaps some of the most difficult topics to talk about. It’s easy to get angry on behalf of children and youth who have experienced this, but it is harder to move beyond anger into action. When I left foster care over thirty years ago, there were very few supports in place. We stuffed our belongings into a garbage bag and were expected to figure out how to “adult,” seemingly overnight. Without any support, myself and many of my peers ended experiencing homelessness.
Power of One
We sometimes walk a dangerous line when we share the experiences of foster youth with others. Providing specific methods and techniques — explaining and integrating each other's voices with theirs so that we can move on with our lives by accepting the past. When we don’t understand how others have lived, the differences between foster youth and adults can grow. We tend to assume that people are the way they are based on how we appear to each other. But no one is born the way they are. The world fills their memories, actions, and understanding based on their environment and upbringing. Foster children, group home youth, and homeless youth are constantly in very critical situations, day-in and day-out. Even though hearing someone share their stories can feel uncomfortable — it may feel like they're blaming the system, or whatever negative attachments one might have — sometimes we need to hear the things we tend to dismiss, because we all are human beings, and everyone needs to be heard.
Thousands of youth from my generation have been promised a land of freedom and opportunity, only to come of age to a world that is a barren wasteland where the desertification of liberty approaches from all sides and the waters from the rivers of opportunity have become a nearly inaccessible commodity. Many of these youth wander this desert without food, shelter, or guidance. They are finding themselves starving, abused, and neglected. Yet, their loss is ignored — and at times even worse, exploited — as a refreshing well of prospect to those who would call themselves advocates yet still pass them by in the street without even offering them a dime.
Would you think it is appropriate to detain a youth for a non-criminal offense? Federally, it is illegal to lock up a youth for a status offense, however, the valid court order exception, or VCO, is an exception that allows judges to lock up youth for non-criminal offenses. A status offense is the illegal behavior of a youth under age 18, such as running away from home, skipping school, and staying out past curfew — all behaviors that would not be criminal if committed by an adult. Washington state has the highest rate of detention for status offenses in the country. In 2016, there were 1,781 non-offender detention admissions.
Power of One
I was always a weird child. I’m still a weird adult. It’s fine now, but when I was younger and in school being weird made me an easy target for bullying. I imagine that me being weird was mostly because of a lack of attention I got at home. I grew up with a single mom who often struggled. Eventually those struggles got out of hand and led to foster care.