Friends of Children, Inc., is an independent, non-profit child advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in W. Mass
SEEING THEIR VOICES
Northampton – June 19th will mark the opening of a unique and powerful exhibit at the State House in Boston MA bringing the photographic and written “voices” of children impacted by foster care to the pubic domain in which laws and policies are made that indelibly shape their lives. Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst is sponsoring the exhibit at the State House. Story, along with a foster youth who participated in the project and Friends of Children Executive Director Jane Lyons, is slated to provide opening remarks.
Foster children are typically shielded from the public’s eye due to sensitive issues of confidentiality. But one agency believes strongly that their voices must be heard in order to improve the child welfare system that has raised them. SEEING THEIR VOICES is a landmark project of Friends of Children, a western Massachusetts based child advocacy organization. The project is an exhibit that will expose the foster care narrative as conveyed by youth in the system. Their complex stories and powerful photographs are set to convey their diverse experiences.
Each year in America, about 500,000 children experience foster care because their parents and caretakers cannot safely care for them. These children do not ask to be placed in the system, but they are there often for very long periods. 59% of foster children remain in care for two years, and some as long as ten years. In Massachusetts, 9000 children are annually placed out of their homes and an alarmingly high percentage never return, are never adopted or permanently placed. They bounce through multiple placements disrupting educational stability and an ability to form trusted attachments. Youth growing up in public foster care without an anchor are at severely increased risks of homelessness, mental health issues, incarceration, unemployment and substance abuse.
“We believe the strongest voice is held by foster children themselves and they need a vehicle to share their compelling stories with the public and policy makers who decisions impact their lives daily,” said Friends of Children Director Jane Lyons. “For over 20 years, we’ve been listening to their stories and are thrilled to create that vehicle in SEEING THEIR VOICES. If we are hoping to better serve thousands of children, we need to hear directly from them.”
SEEING THEIR VOICES™ was initiated as a child advocacy project of Friends of Children to give young people who have experienced foster care a vehicle to express themselves in a call-to-action to help change a system sorely in need of reform.
Friends of Children is currently involved in shaping a new model for youth transitioning out of foster care. The model is called HUB and is designed as a long-term support system for youth transitioning out of the foster care system ages 15-24. The basis of the model is building a network of people from all sectors of the community to help the child transition to independent living and avoid the negative statistical outcomes associated with youth who transition out, such as homelessness, unemployment and jail time. Friends of Children will be shaping the model this November and December through a colloborative process that includes community members from Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties.
CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives. (from the National CASA website)
Friends of Children trains CASA volunteers and coordinates the regional CASA program for Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties. Many tireless volunteers give their time and effort to help these children.