Connecticut Voices for Children believes that all Connecticut children should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. As part of our commitment to broadening opportunities for the state’s most vulnerable children, each year, we host an informational forum where we hear from youth in foster care about the challenges they face in state custody, and receive their feedback on how to improve the system. On Monday December 8, we hosted our 4th annual Youth at the Capitol Day Forum, “Because Relationships Matter: Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Youth in State Care.”
The theme of this year’s youth forum focused on the importance of permanent relationships to achieving positive life outcomes. Without secure and stable relationships, youth who grow up in foster care have greater difficulty achieving positive life outcomes and face a greater risk of homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and dependence on public assistance. We heard from many youth formerly and currently in Connecticut’s foster care system, each who spoke eloquently about their struggles and successes establishing permanent relationships. Eddie Rosa, a 17 year old in foster care in Bridgeport, explained the challenge: "Being in 14 schools and nine different homes, it's not easy to trust people. It's hard for me to trust the [foster care] parents, who are trying to teach me things."
In particular, young people spoke about the need for stronger relationships with their social workers, who are critical to helping find permanent relationships. As Kelsey Ward, a 17 year old in foster care from Clinton explained, “One thing that’s really important to me is my relationship with my social worker… He doesn’t have time to come see me because he has to go to this kid’s house or do this with this kid…If we opened up the workforce and we let more people in…the people that are older that have done their job for many years can show [the new workers] what they can do and how they can help change people’s lives because that’s what they’re supposed to do and if someone wants to do that, you should let them.”
Throughout the event, young people supported one another and showed solidarity with each other. Mufasha Abdul Basir, a 19 year old in foster care, addressed another youth in the audience and explained: “From the bottom of my heart I feel exactly where you’re coming from, because … kids like us we’re put down, we’re labeled, we’re seen as kids who aren’t going anywhere, that we have no future. As us, as young men, it is our job to make people like that look stupid, and become something really important in life.”
While our State engages in many best practices that facilitate the development of permanent relationships for children, Connecticut can and should do more to help children in foster care forge permanent relationships. Furthermore, DCF is hamstrung in its efforts to foster permanent relationships because of persistent cuts to the agency’s budget – the DCF budget has been cut by 20% since 2009. While Connecticut has reduced the share of children in foster care who live in congregate (group) care facilities by half, those savings have not been reinvested in community supports and services. Both policy and practice improvements and increased investment are needed to help all Connecticut children in foster care achieve permanent relationships.
To learn more about policy recommendations to improve opportunities for young people in foster care, please see our new research paper on the importance of relationships.
You can also watch a complete video of the event below through the Connecticut Network to hear directly from youth about the key relationships that are vital to their success, and listen to the audio of a WNPR story about youth voices at the forum.
Be on the lookout for a future blog post with video clips from the young people who participated!