Change Maker: Leroy
“People should remember that foster youth are human beings, not paperwork…Don’t give up on us.”
Leroy—Advocate for Child Welfare System Change
Leroy, age 19, is a student at the University of Texas Pan-American and an advocate for foster youth and child welfare system change. As a former foster youth, Leroy struggled with abuse, neglect, and mental health issues as a result of the trauma he experienced in seven different foster homes. Leroy found support from a case worker who listened to him and encouraged him to speak up for himself and others. He is now an active advocate for foster youth who has taken on leadership positions, including his role as a Youth Member of the Texas Council on Children and Families, that allow him to educate child welfare professionals and policymakers about the experiences of foster youth. Leroy hopes to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice and social work and become a social worker with child protective services (CPS).
We asked Leroy to share his story and offer recommendations for youth in foster care.
I am a youth panelist for Child Inclusion Training for CPS Region 11 in Texas. This means that I present as part of a panel with other youth at trainings for CPS staff and administrators. We tell them what they are doing well and what they could be doing to help us better. My case worker saw me present at one of these trainings and told me that it helped her to realize just how important her job is. They [CPS staff and administrators] definitely want to hear our recommendations, and our opinions are an important part of changing things. This type of training gets personal, because they get to ask us questions directly. The fact that they listen to us and are eager to learn from us is amazing.
Finding a good mentor that you can trust is important. I suggest looking for a mentor who can push you and give you both positive and constructive feedback. A mentor shouldn’t just tell you what you want to hear, or else you won’t benefit. I had 10 case workers during my time in foster care, but it was the last one that I had that made a difference. She knew how to talk to me and comfort me. When I was sad or going through a bad time, she was the one who helped me. She was the one who encouraged me to get involved with leadership and advocacy. Even though she’s not my case worker anymore, I still talk to her all the time and consider her part of my family. In my state, families are assigned case workers, and youth don’t have a say in changing to a case worker who might better meet their needs. That’s why I am advocating for the creation of specialized roles for professionals who work with youth, because not all case workers are experts in working with youth of all ages.
Earlier this year, I was a presenter at an Aging Out seminar, which is a new program the state created to help foster youth who are leaving the system. The program provides information about transitioning to adulthood, and life skills such as healthy relationships, financial literacy, and nutrition. I presented on self-advocacy and shared information on knowing your rights, voicing complaints, and navigating the foster care system. Youth need more information like this, and we need to get more youth involved in [advocacy for] foster care. Youth can be involved by simply “speaking out” about things they feel are done incorrectly and sharing what an ideal foster care system could look like. Advocacy isn’t as hard as people think; anyone can be an advocate. Once I started advocating, little by little I got more experience, and now I’m very involved. There are many benefits to youth being involved in foster care. As a youth in foster care, having your voice heard increases your knowledge, skills, and self-esteem and makes you feel more connected and valued.