Note: This is a guest post from Bobbi Taylor, Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare Youth Fellow.
My biggest fear is failure. I use that fear to fuel the drive in myself everyday. That never used to be a fear, until I entered the foster care system. I cannot count the times that placement staff, caseworkers, foster parents, and my own support system told me that I would either end up a career criminal, in prison, or dead.
I spent seven long years in the system, going back and forth between higher levels of care and foster homes. Two weeks prior to my 19th birthday, I walked out of Geneva YRTC a high school graduate, and was on my way to another foster home. I was dreading the day that they finally closed my case. I had no home to go to after this foster home. I didn’t meet the qualifications for the very few programs they had in place for youth aging out of the juvenile justice system. I wasn’t able to enroll in school because it was the middle of the semester and I was still looking for a job. The cards were definitely not in my favor, but if there was anything that I learned along the way, it was that life has dealt worse cards to better people. I had no time to waste feeling sorry for myself. I refused to let the people that told me I would fail, have the satisfaction to say they were right.
Shortly after my case closed I was introduced to Project Everlast, a youth led council that helps us navigate the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Like any other youth who bounces from placement to placement, I was nervous and felt out of place my first visit. In all honesty, I went back a second time because they provided dinner and I was low on money and groceries. I’m glad I went because it changed my life.
That night, they were finalizing their plan for an upcoming project. Everyone was discussing their role in short videos, explaining their story in the system, and why Project Everlast was important to them. The goal was to present this video during their event for Foster Care Awareness Month in May. The stories I heard were empowering and examples of true resilience. I decided to let my guard down, get to know the group, and let them get to know me. We all have a common goal: Be the voice to change a broken system and improve the lives and outcomes for future youth.
For the past five years, I continue to be an advocate through Project Everlast and Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF). I started with a simple speaker bureau training and flourished from there. Currently, I am a youth contract consultant for NCFF. The opportunity came when NCFF, community partners, and providers began to implement a grant to improve outcomes for youth in and out of care who are pregnant and parenting. In Nebraska, 48% of children ages 0-5 that enter the system have had a parent in the system. I am so honored to be a helping hand in this process and hope for significant change for these youth and their children.
I am also a Nebraska Appleseed intern, which has opened a whole new door of knowledge and experience in policy and legislation. Through Appleseed, I wrote an interim study related to the bill of rights for foster youth. It was successfully introduced as LR 127, by Senator Megan Hunt, with the help of Appleseed.
Today, I am a mother of three, and I take pride in that title. I am a passionate advocate for youth in the juvenile justice system, foster care, and those aging out of the systems, because their lives matter. I strive to be a better citizen and encourage others to, as well. Because our voice matters and our votes count. This fall, I am continuing my education to earn a degree in Juvenile Justice. I continue to prove the people that doubted me wrong. I continue to strive to be the person and example I needed so desperately when I was in the system. Unfortunately, underneath, I still have the fear that I will fail. You never know what life will throw your way. Yet, I still continue to drive myself to beat the odds. I will continue to help and support change for the juvenile justice and foster care systems. I hope you will, too during the month of May by recognizing Foster Care Awareness Month.