National Foster Care Month KickOff: A Recap


Our virtual kick-off event was a great opportunity to meet other like-minded folks and hear directly from our Lived Experience Leaders — young people who have firsthand experience with the foster care system. They shared their inspiring stories and talked about the challenges they've faced and overcome.

We were thrilled to welcome 83 attendees to our National Foster Care Month KickOff! The event was filled with inspiring discussions, impactful updates, and exciting previews of what’s ahead for FosterClub. 

Here’s a recap of the highlights:

Panel Discussion with National Foster Care Month Influencers

Our event featured an engaging panel moderated by Tanya Townsend, FosterClub’s Volunteer Manager who brings her own lived experience in foster care to the role. The panel showcased our National Foster Care Month Influencers, who are making significant contributions to raising awareness and advocating for change in child welfare.

Impact Update: Youth Services

Laura Goble, our Youth Services Director, provided an insightful impact update, focusing on the power of services provided by young people with foster care experience, for young people with foster care experience. Her presentation highlighted how these peer-led initiatives are creating positive outcomes and fostering a supportive community.

Cameo Appearance: Board Chair Nico’Lee Biddle

We were honored to have a special cameo appearance by Nico’Lee Biddle, Chair of FosterClub’s Board of Directors and a Senior Program Analyst for the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Nico’Lee, who also has lived experience in the child welfare system, shared her insights and underscored the importance of Lived Experience Leadership in driving systemic change.

Mission Moment: Sabrina Petrie's Journey

Our Mission Moment highlighted the incredible journey of Sabrina Petrie, a 2016 AllStar Intern. Sabrina used her internship experience as the foundation for an evaluation project in her Master’s program. Almost a decade later, she continues to spread the word about the impacts of FosterClub’s programs, showcasing the long-term influence and reach of our initiatives.

Notes on the Horizon: Executive Director

Executive Director Celeste Bodner shared exciting updates on FosterClub’s upcoming priorities. These initiatives are informed by the lived experiences of those in the foster care system and aim to drive meaningful change and provide direct support to young people.

Audience Engagement and Poll Results

We were delighted to see high levels of audience engagement throughout the event. In an audience poll, 83% of voters expressed their intention to start a conversation about foster care, demonstrating the powerful ripple effect of our collective efforts.

Our Lived Experience Leaders and National Foster Care Month Influencers

Natalie Clark

6 years in Utah’s Foster Care System
25 years old

Taniyah Williams

3 years in Indiana’s Foster Care System 
19 years old 

Mayda Berrios

4 years in Delaware’s Foster Care System 
24 years old 

Bianca Bennett-Scott

8 years in New York’s Foster Care System 
26 years old 

Gabe Foley

18 years in Illinois’ Foster Care System 
23 years old 

Audience Questions Answered by National Foster Care Month Influencers

Our event concluded with a dynamic Q&A where our National Foster Care Month Influencers addressed questions from the audience, providing valuable insights and fostering a deeper understanding of foster care.
Read on for answers to YOUR questions!

Bianca Bennett-Scott | She/Her/Hers

Age 26, 8 years in New York’s foster care system

Q: As a former Foster youth now 35 years old. Please share your experience prior to exiting the system. Has your experience in the system been positive, negative or both

I am 26. My experience before exiting foster care was confusing, yet it provided a sense of home. During my latter years in care, I was placed with my maternal grandmother, which left me uncertain about whether I was still in the system. After she passed away shortly after my 21st birthday, I quickly realized I was unprepared for what lay ahead. This period was particularly negative for me because I lacked support from the system due to my kinship care status. Additionally, I was dealing with significant trauma and pain, which I had to face alone. It was incredibly isolating.

Q: Why should Lived Experience (LEx) Leaders be involved in changing the system and can you share an example of how you’ve helped change the system (if you have one)?

LEx Leaders should be involved in system change because we have the direct experiences that can help create effective solutions. Without our voices, solutions would continue to be ineffective because policies and implementation practices are not authentic. To honor authenticity and people's real life challenges, LEx Leaders have to be embedded in system change. 

One example of my contributions to system change is sharing my input and experiences to help advance Family First Prevention Services Act and the importance of providing kinship providers with the support they need to take care of their families. I feel like I greatly contributed to helping policymakers understand the importance of that assistance through sharing my own unique experiences and being a part of the conversations around implementation measures benefitting vulnerable families and BIPOC.

Q: What do you think policymakers should know about supporting youth in foster care?

I find it fascinating how, during sessions and conversations with policymakers, they are deeply moved by hearing lived experiences and understanding what people are going through. These stories challenge their assumptions and highlight aspects that statistics alone cannot capture. Youth in foster care face unique challenges that only they can fully articulate and explain. Listening to their stories helps policymakers understand the emotional and psychological impact of policies and systems on young people. 

I urge all policymakers to actively engage with foster youth, listen to their experiences, and let these insights shape their understanding around foster youth needs to help guide their policies and decisions. We have to keep things data driven and human centered. 

Q: I’ve worked as a case manager for kids in foster care. I was very upset with how the “system” was failing my kids. How can I get involved in advocacy to work on systemic changes in the system? 

Case managers are incredibly special because you have the leverage and connections to help inform and create spaces that better prepare others to support youth who experience foster care. Look into local organizations as passionate about system change as you are and mobilize. We are always better together.

I also suggest thinking about the needs you’ve seen young people face and finding tangible ways to create solutions. For example, many former social workers have mentioned that youth who experience foster care often don’t have their own suitcases and bags to move their belongings. Consider your network and how you can educate and mobilize them to address such issues. Be creative - everything counts. But always make sure to connect with young people with foster care experience so you are leading changes informed by their lived experiences.

Q: In hindsight, what should a first step be for someone who is struggling to transition as an adult? 

I would suggest starting by connecting with peers and finding people who can relate to the realities of transitioning to adulthood. It's really hard to understand the nuances of adulthood, even for adults, let alone the trauma that young people endure in foster care.

Connecting with individuals who have firsthand experiences of these challenges and can relate to young people helps create those connections that help ensure resources are received and utilized. Trusting relationships ensure people are safe with sharing their barriers in order to make those resources work. Also, having a strong advocate who can either help directly or connect young people with the necessary resources even if they don't have lived experience is important because it helps build confidence and a social capital during this transition. I missed out on a lot of my resources because I just didn't know it was out there and that I could ask people for help. 

Q: I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). To those of you who have come through the system, what did CASA do to help?  What did you dislike about your CASA worker?

I did not have a CASA, but I wish I did. It seemed very beneficial for my peers to have an advocate and another person in their corner to help them understand how to advocate for their own needs and desires.

Q: Thanks to everyone for sharing! I am 36 and experienced foster care. I would like to give back to this community but in general I hit a lot of dead ends and many groups are age restricted to younger people being able to help. How can I help? 

Look into the Foster Care Alumni of America network and see if your city or a neighboring one has a chapter. If not, I think it's really important to connect with organizations focused on the betterment and empowerment of young people and families. Consider helping foster parents by using your lived experience to help with their training, or if you are into education, reach out to schools and ask if you can host events or programs for youth who experience foster care. Tap into your own experiences and MAKE spaces to fill some of the things you want to advocate for. 

Q: What are your goals when transitioning from a youth advocate role to full-fledged adult roles?

Now that I am transitioning into adulthood and advancing in my professional career, I am really focused on expanding the impact of my advocacy work. I've always been dedicated to advocating for the equitable treatment of youth who experience foster care, but I'm also becoming more aware of the intersectionalities of identities and communities. I am really focused at this part of my life on deepening my understanding of how social issues like race, gender, socioeconomic status, and LGBTQ+ identities intersect to better address the needs of marginalized groups. I want to use the tools that I have learned in child welfare, such as the importance of incorporating lived experience, and help build policy and implementation frameworks and networks for professionals, mentors, and like-minded individuals who want to better systems for the most disenfranchised communities.

Q: What was your main barrier (if any) to post secondary education? What is one thing you wish you had known or had access to in furthering your education/career post high school?

I had two main barriers in my post-secondary education journey. The first was being able to find and connect with financial and school/community-based resources that could help me navigate the complexities of college. I was disconnected from many services and resources during my undergraduate career, and when I did connect with them, it was too late for me to utilize them in my graduate career because I was no longer eligible. However, one resource that did stay constant and was very beneficial in covering some of the financial costs was the Chafee and Educational Training Voucher (ETV). I'm not sure how I was connected with ETV, but it was very helpful throughout my undergraduate career.

The second barrier I encountered was emotional regulation. Due to the traumas and triggers I experienced in foster care, I struggled to manage my emotions effectively in a school environment. When faced with social and academic challenges, I often found it not only difficult to navigate these situations effectively but also did not understand why my emotional reactions would happen when navigating these challenges. 

I found myself in some pretty difficult situations that affected my overall academic performance and career. If anything, I just wish I had the knowledge and support to help navigate the basic concepts of being an adult such as managing finances and basic life skills, as well as the emotional support to help face challenges in an effective way.

Gabe Foley | He/Him/His

Age 23, 18 years in Illinois’ foster care system

Q: In hindsight, what should a first step be for someone who is struggling to transition as an adult?

I would encourage you to lean on the people who truly make you feel supported. The transition into adulthood is universally difficult and made even worse by the unique challenges and barriers for those with child welfare experience. Finding people to go to when you need emotional and psychological support is a vital piece of building a platform from which you can grow and thrive. The right people come from all kinds of places - whether they be friends and peers, home-based attachments like kin, or even, in my case, my school counselor.

Transitioning to adulthood is overwhelming - having a space where you feel safe to bring your authentic self and share your emotions goes a long way towards finding success. It’s also important to remember that we’re all running our own race - and that any progrss towards a goal is good progress. Trust your gut when making decisions or pursuing opportunities - nobody knows you better than you, and it’s in listening to within that we find the things that make us happiest!

Q: What are your goals when transitioning from a youth advocate role to full-fledged adult roles?

I have had the privilege of employing my lived experience in a more professional, full-time role following my experience with local Youth Advisory Boards, and have found that the passion for empowering lived experts and inspiring positive change remain consistent variables as I pursue new projects or work with new teams. I have certainly had to build skills in adapting my story to the setting I’m in - or my strategic sharing skills. With those, I’ve been able to continue carrying my determination and passion for sharing my story and lifting up other stories, while still molding my sharing to the needs of a variety of spaces.

Q: How can young people who were in foster care find ways to share their story and their ideas for how to make things better for those who are still in care?

Connecting young people to engagement opportunities is something that must begin with effective outreach on the side of systems. With that in mind, there are many approaches young people can take to learn about opportunities - though none are surefire. I’d encourage young people to first and foremost discuss the idea of lived expertise with peers and support staff. Word of mouth is how I’ve been connected to most of my engagement opportunities. You can also search for your state’s Youth Advisory Board on Google or through the state child welfare agency’s website.

While you’re searching, take note of any barriers to accessibility that you come across. It is best practice for lived experience engagement opportunities to be easily accessible to young lived experts, so any feedback on how that could improve will be beneficial! 

What was your main barrier/if any to post secondary education? What is one thing you wish you had known or had access to in furthering your education/career post high school?

I was completely uninformed of Chafee and Educational Training Voucher (ETV) funding until I was disconnected from the system at 19, and heard about opportunities through my youth advisory board (YAB). That created a substantial barrier to post-secondary education. It required me to work full-time, in addition to a full class load, during my freshman year.

I wish I was more informed on the supportive funding available, as well as any support groups my community had in place. The ability to connect with a peer with similar experiences would have been a tremendous mental and emotional support during my early college journey - and I’m happy to see those opportunities growing in recent years.

How do you navigate your lived experience voice when nonprofits need your voice to fundraise?

When working with lived experience, remember that lived experts have no choice but to bring their full selves. There’s a degree of emotional vulnerability that comes with sharing lived experiences - which is why it’s crucial every space engaging lived experts is authentic, transparent, and trauma-aware. I find it’s that feeling of authenticity that drives my connection with different opportunities.

Whether it’s supporting annual reporting, engaging on a YAB, or supporting fundraising - I find myself first asking if the engagement would take place in a safe space, where I feel my story will not only be honored and respected; but used to guide positive learning and change. Feeling that a space is safe and meaningful - and connecting with the objectives of those requesting my lived experience - are the variables I consider when entering any space, particularly fundraising.

From FosterClub Staff:

Tanya Townsend | She/Her/Hers

Volunteer Manager | Foster Care Alum, Rhode Island

Q: Thanks to everyone for sharing! I am 36 and experienced foster care. I would like to give back to this community but in general I hit a lot of dead ends and many groups are age restricted to younger people being able to help. How can I help? 

Adult foster care alums have a unique perspective and valuable insights to offer in supporting youth in care. Getting involved in various programs and initiatives can make a significant impact on the lives of young people who are currently in foster care. Here are some ways for adult foster care alums to get involved and give back to the community:

  • State Mentoring Programs: One effective way for adult foster care alums to get involved is by participating in their state's mentoring programs. Serving as a mentor to a young person in care can provide guidance, support, and encouragement. It can also help the youth build positive relationships and develop essential life skills. By sharing their experiences and wisdom, adult foster care alums can make a meaningful difference in the lives of these young individuals.

  • Connecting with Local Youth Services Agency: Another avenue for getting involved is by connecting with local youth services agencies. These agencies often organize events and activities for youth in care to support their well-being and development. By volunteering at events such as backpack drives, 5K races, youth summits, or holiday celebrations, adult foster care alums can actively contribute to creating positive experiences for young people in need.

  • Raising Awareness + Advocating: Using social media platforms to raise awareness and advocate for youth in care is another impactful way for adult foster care alums to make a difference. By sharing their stories, insights, and perspectives online, they can educate others about the challenges faced by youth in care and the importance of providing support and resources. This advocacy can help empower young people in care and ensure that their voices are heard.

Q: What was your main barrier (if any) to post secondary education? What is one thing you wish you had known or had access to in furthering your education/career post high school?

I had many barriers to accessing secondary education including child care. Rhode Island did not have any programs or assistance to help young mothers with child care as they furthered their education. I went to three different colleges for my associate's, bachelor's and master's and none of them had supportive child care either.  This really delayed my ability to complete all my courses.

I really wish i had know about scholarships and funding for youth in foster care accessing secondary education. This information was never shared with me and I ended up taking out significant loans to cover my college degrees. Today i am in significant debt I would not be in if financial aid information was shared with me.

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