Youth Advocacy and Leadership in Child Welfare

A paramount role of a clinical social worker working with youth in foster care is hearing their voice.  Adolescents deserve their voice being heard regarding their case plan, to include such things as establishing their goals, placement decisions and plans for their future.  However, for adolescents in child welfare, the ability to have the robust capacity to identify and achieve goals is largely dependent upon a team of child welfare professionals; a marked difference between adolescents not under the supervision of the state. Adolescents who have endured trauma, separation and loss, and multiple changes in primary supports may have lower self-value or decreased feelings of self-worth which may impede their ability to have a role in advocacy for themselves.

To be an effective advocate for adolescents in foster care, we must acknowledge an adolescent’s right of self-determination at all levels of a child welfare agency.  Ben-Arieh (2005) proposes that

child participation is a guiding principle, and as such it should be part of every aspect of children’s lives and should be extended to all settings and to all types of rights (p. 586)

Therefore, we must act on our responsibility to preserve this right through a demonstrated commitment to adolescent’s participation, particularly around decision making for their care and the care of others in the system.  Teaching adolescents advocacy and leadership skills within an agency setting should be the foundation of an organization’s culture.  I propose the following ways organizations can be committed to youth engagement.

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