IMG_2592 (1)[4]By Bianca Rey, Connecticut Voices for Children

On January 11, 2015, Connecticut Voices for Children celebrated the release of Home: Voices of Connecticut’s Foster Youth, with a book event at Metro Bis Restaurant in Simsbury, CT.

Youth in state care – whether involved in the state’s child welfare or juvenile justice systems – are some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable and most courageous young people. There are too few opportunities for these young people to share their stories with the broader public, including the policymakers who make the decisions that influence their lives. Connecticut Voices for Children is committed to sharing the voices of youth in state care and training youth to effectively advocate for themselves. In accordance with that aim, we worked with young people across the state to compile and publish a short book of their writings—essays, poems, stories, and other pieces—focused on their experiences in state care.

This book, authored by youth and alumni of the foster care system, arose from a longtime partnership between CT Voices and the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Through this partnership, we aim to provide ongoing, empowering advocacy experiences for youth in state care. We work with DCF’s Youth Advisory Boards (YABs) to prepare youth leaders to express their concerns directly to policymakers through public speaking and testimony. We lead workshops to train youth around the state in strategic sharing, writing legislative testimony, and other skills essential to self-advocacy. In short, we recognize that youth in care can be their own best advocates, and work to enable them to do so.

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This project represents a slight, creative departure from our usual work. A year and a half ago, while working with YAB members across the state on Connecticut’s first-ever Foster Care Bill of Rights and Expectations, we recognized that, for some youth, direct written or spoken advocacy was not a comfortable, safe way to explore their experiences in state care. Some youth needed a more creative outlet for self-expression and self-advocacy, and few existed in our state. This youth writing project is an initial attempt to create a meaningful alternative mode of self-expression and self-advocacy for youth in foster care.

The project began as collaboration between Connecticut Voices for Children, organizers from the New Haven People’s Arts Collective (PAC), and the YABs. Our project sought to bring high-quality creative writing programming to DCF-involved adolescents. Through such programming, youth can access safe opportunities for healthy, positive self-image and community building. We brought in PAC to facilitate a series of dynamic creative writing workshops across the state, and solicited writings from youth and alumni through the staff coordinators of the YABs. The response was overwhelmingly positive: youth continued trying to submit new pieces of writing long after our listed deadline passed.

Our book release event last week was a celebration of all of our authors. We invited DCF Commissioner Joette Katz to share remarks, and welcomed Lexie Pérez-Grüber to address our young authors. Many of the authors read their pieces aloud, some for the first time ever. It was an empowering, moving event. Commissioner Katz departed from her prepared remarks, declaring herself “overwhelmed.” At the end of the program, the authors had an opportunity to sign their books for the attendees. A highlight was a moment when one author, April Posey, spontaneously broke into song, and all the attendees grew silent, letting her voice fill the room.

To request a printed copy of the book, please reach out to Bianca Rey at brey@ctvoices.org.