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California Youth Connection: Thirty Years of Foster Youth Organizing

Posted on July 31, 2018

“Our participation in CYC gives us hope we didn’t have growing up.  It’s hope for yourself and hope for the next generation.”

In the summer of 1998, a group of current and former foster youth from Los Angeles got organized to make a change in the system. Since that time, the group that has come to be known as California Youth Connection (CYC) has paved the way for new expectations about what youth could accomplish, and sparked a realization that young people impacted by the foster care system had power to make changes in the system and the circumstances of their lives. With more than twenty statewide legislative campaign victories to their name, CYC demonstrates the promise and potential of youth organizing to transform systems, practice and, most importantly, the lives of young people. In its thirtieth year, FYA honors the incredible contributions to the movement that CYC has contributed, including launching Foster Youth in Action in 2008!

With an annual membership of more than three hundred youth and young adults statewide and a base of thousands more, CYC’s core organizers and members work together to guide campaigns and collective organizational priorities to create immediate and practical results in lives of young people. 

This year, CYC’s #FosterStability campaign furthers this commitment to secure basic rights for young people in the system.  Drawing on the perspectives, experiences and concerns of their membership across the state, CYC identified the continuing challenge that frequent, sudden, and unexpected placements changes mean for the well-being of youth in care. This campaign issue – and those before them - emerged through an identification and research process that begins at the county level and continues through several levels of youth-driven discussion, analysis and reflection. The mobilization of more than 100 youth at their recent day-at-the-capitol event in Sacramento was not only a celebration of youth voice, but also a clear demonstration of their power to secure the political support needed to secure passage of state legislation to improve placement stability. 

CYC’s accomplishments are measured not just in wins, but in a change in culture and expectations across the state about what young people can offer and why youth engagement is critical for change. Moreover, their influence and impact has extended beyond the state, showing a unique model grounded in collective power that influenced the establishment of other powerful statewide foster youth led movements in Oregon, Florida, North Carolina and beyond.  

Through the process of organizing and building community, young people also heal and grow.  A current CYC leader from Southern California breaks it down this way: “The connections I have made with other youth have been amazing.  They really support me and push me to go further. CYC has given me a new sense of hope, and it’s not a fake sense of hope. It’s real.”