A Model of Success for International Youth Day

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August 13, 2015

The engagement and participation of youth is essential to achieve sustainable human development and self-sufficiency, a mission supported by MAXIMUS Foundation and our grantmaking program. However, the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are often insufficient. This week, at the United Nations General Assembly’s 2015 “Youth Civic Engagement” themed International Youth Day, young activists are highlighting their social issue campaigns and encouraging broader engagement and opportunity.

Youth-led and advocacy-focused since its inception in 1988, the California Youth Connection (CYC) has been at the forefront of youth participation in social policy change. Created and designed by the population served, foster youth came together to provide a voice for key policy and implementation decision-making that impacts their lives. CYC develops leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system by impacting legislation and policy.

Approximately 5,000 California youth age out of foster care each year. Youth in foster care often feel marginalized, labeled or stigmatized within their foster homes, schools and communities. These overwhelming feelings of disconnectedness can lead to a host of self-destructive behaviors. Research shows that 40% of emancipating foster youth face homelessness, 60% face chronic unemployment and poverty within the first two years of emancipation, and more than 25% will be incarcerated during this time period.

As a youth driven organization in which the majority of the Board of Directors are former foster youth, the majority of program staff are former foster youth, and 100% of their Advisory Board are current and former foster youth — all they do and what they stand for is vetted and approved by the youths themselves.

CYC works to empower youth to become effective advocates through education, skill development, community building, and strengths-based coaching, and increases direct youth engagement with stakeholders and policymakers.

 “As the generations pass through CYC they become more empowered not only by past CYC members' accomplishments, but also by the work that lies ahead to improve the foster care system. As a member and facilitator I have learned that only with teamwork can we come together and truly build a better foundation for the future of all foster youth,” shared Erica W., Member, Contra Costa Chapter.

As part of their unique model, members of CYC, ages 14 to 24, serve as volunteers. To the younger foster care youth, the older, more experienced members become accessible models of active citizenship and agents of change. The significant act of joining CYC is often the foster youth’s first step toward civic participation. CYC seeks to ignite a lifelong passion for volunteerism and community service.

“Through CYC, I have gotten the opportunity to go places I never would have had a chance to go, and meet people I never would have had a chance to meet. I got involved with CYC for the experiences and opportunities, and it has helped me to become a well-rounded person,” stated Galvin E., Member, Yolo County Chapter.

Youth development research identifies engagement in community action, exposure to caring adults and contact with healthy and purposeful community activities as factors that reduce long-term negative outcomes, including the likelihood of low educational achievement, incarceration and homelessness, all of which are significant risk factors facing the foster youth community. CYC focuses on developing confidence and leadership among foster youth through connections to caring adult mentors within a youth development model that provides a community of purpose and engagement.

CYC is the only organization that provides the opportunity for foster youth to join a community of peers, learn leadership skills, and become active partners to improve the foster care system, serving as a model of success as the world honors International Youth Day. 

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