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 child welfare professionals.
Maintain open lines of communication:
It’s important that people working with foster youth try to answer their phone calls and emails. There were times that I tried to get in touch with my case workers but their phones would just ring or I’d never get replies from emails. Even if you just respond to let [your client] know that you got the message, that’s better [than no response]. Not hearing anything makes youth feel like they can’t rely on you.
Also, if there’s lack of communication in general, that should be fixed. It would help foster youth if everyone [CPS and the child-serving agencies] in child welfare came together and communicated better. Then information wouldn’t get lost, and everyone would be on the same page.
Try to keep families together, but get families the services they need:
But, it’s important to have preventive services for families if that happens. Parents need education on how to be good parents so reunification can work for everyone. If foster youth aren’t treated well by their families, they might feel scared to tell case workers or their foster families.
Remember that we are human beings, not paperwork:
When I was in foster care, I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone. At one point, I saw a therapist to deal with things, and I found out that my therapist and my foster mother were talking to each other about me and what I said in therapy. From then on, I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone with what I was really feeling. People working with foster youth should keep the trust of the youth they serve by not sharing the things that the youth say. People should remember that foster youth are human beings, not paperwork. We have feelings and things affect us. Don’t give up on us. And remember, the things we do sometimes aren’t our fault; we do some things because of the trauma we’ve experienced.