Who are the young people who exit the foster care system? Do they have knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully live in and engage in Why do we care? How can you help? Why is Foster Youth Voice Day significant? These are all great questions, and I will try to answer them because I am a youth who has experienced foster care. We need continued support to become successful adults.

We are 18 to 23 years old who need the same support and resources that all young people need. There are over 2,500 of us across the state of Florida. We need financial assistance, life skills, housing, education and employment. But our journey to adulthood can be a steeper climb because we do not have parents to help us along the way. We need caring professionals, supportive adults and positive role models to guide and equip us with the tools needed to take advantage of opportunities and help us thrive.

We all live in community.  And caring about community means caring about all people. Without the needed support, many of us who have a steeper climb will find ourselves more vulnerable to experience unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration. And there is a real societal cost to our missteps and failure. It is estimated that for every youth who leaves foster care, taxpayers will spend $300,000 each year for our inability to successfully contribute to communities. Young people with lived experience in foster care do want to be successful—so much so that we have created local youth councils to advocate for changes in the child welfare system, especially for our brothers and sisters who come behind us.

I am one of the youth leaders for our local council, Kelsey Burton, supported by the lead child welfare agency Family Support Services of North Florida. We are focused on improving the perception of kids in care starting with labels and language used; opportunities for kids in care to advocate for themselves and developing a system that provides adult and peer mentors for kids in care. We are part of the One Voice IMPAACT (OVI) statewide network of youth councils supported by Selfless Love Foundation and Florida Coalition for Children.

Governor DeSantis declared November 4th Foster Youth Voice Day in Florida to create opportunities for young people involved in the child welfare system to have an active role in decision-making about our lives.

You can help us by signing the Youth Voice Pledge at www.YouthVoiceNation.org, sharing this op-ed on social media and telling others that foster youth are just like all youth who need support and resources to achieve their dreams.