Every year The Mockingbird Society gathers hundreds of young adults who have experienced either foster care, homelessness or both, in Olympia, Washington to share their stories and solutions with lawmakers. Their lived experience gives them unmatched expertise in the child welfare and homelessness response systems and has contributed to meaningful change in Washington state. Their accomplishments are a testament to the necessity of involving those most affected by systems in the redesign of those systems.
The following post is a guest post from The Mockingbird Society.
By Sierra Phillips, Mockingbird Youth Network Representative
Growing up I was surrounded by instability, poverty and a family that had significant substance abuse struggles—from this lived experience I knew I wanted to give back and better the lives of youth and young adults experiencing similar family circumstances. Eventually my life was affected by homelessness. I knew that I wanted to make a change for people with similar experiences.
I recognize most of the things that I’m working to change right now won’t affect me. However, that’s not why I do the work. I do the work because I want to make life better for the youth and young adults who are coming up behind me. I want to do this work because I want the opportunity to give back what has been given to me.
The power of lived experience is very important. For the last four years I have been able to offer the expertise of my lived experience as part of The Mockingbird Society—working to end youth homelessness and improve foster care. Mockingbird believes that to make change, we need to take the lived experiences that youth and young adults have and raise their voices up. Youth and young adults with lived experience give life to these problems. They allow lawmakers and other stakeholders to put a face to the issues they are considering—not just numbers and data. They get the opportunity to hear from people who frequently feel invisible. To see this in action check out the video above that highlights lived experience in action at Mockingbird’s Youth Advocacy Day.
In my four years with Mockingbird I have gotten to participate in many changes. By telling my story I have put a human face to the things we feel should change. For example, in 2015 the Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act (HYPP) was passed in Washington. This law created the country’s first Office of Homeless Youth, housed in the Department of Commerce. The Office provides management and oversight of state programs that service youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, including shelter and housing programs.
In this process an advisory board was created. Mockingbird youth wanted to be sure that young people were on this board. On March 4th, 2016 Governor Jay Inslee appointed me to be a voting member of the advisory board. While on this board I got to use my experiences with homelessness to help guide the decision making of the office. When I stepped off the board, I was replaced by another young person who has experienced homelessness, ensuring that youth voice continues to inform the board.
Mockingbird not only gave me this opportunity, but also made sure I was comfortable and prepared going into all meetings. I wasn’t sent out into this role alone. Someone always went with me. I was able to ask questions about the things I did not understand. At Mockingbird, youth voice and time matter and are valued. To elevate our future young leaders and their lived experience, we need support from our community.
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