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Judge Leonard Edwards: We need a long-term investment in foster youth organizing


Posted on April 11, 2018

Judge Leonard Edwards is a retired judge now working as a consultant, educator, and trainer. He served as a Superior Court Judge in Santa Clara County for 26 years and then for six years as Judge-in-Residence at the Center for Families, Children & the Courts, a division of the Judicial Council of California.  A passionate and dedicated advocate for foster youth with a long track record of improving systems to support positive outcomes for children and families, Judge Edwards has been given numerous awards from local, state, and national organizations. In 2004 he was awarded the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, the only juvenile court judge ever to receive that award.

Before I was a donor, I had a chance to work with [FYA’s Founding organization] California Youth Connection (CYC) and their amazing young leaders.   When Janet [FYA’s founder] came to me to say that she wanted to take the organization nationally, I said, “you go girl!”

In my direct work experience across California, I have truly seen the power of foster youth voice.  Young people, when given an opportunity, are not only qualified, but motivated, and just need a chance to fulfil their potential.   I know it’s such a meaningful experience for them, and that they want to use their expertise to make change.  When I step back and observe what young people have accomplished, it is wonderful to see.

When I hear CYC members and other foster youth speak, I learn.  How can I ignore their experience and their truth? This is the only way I know to truly get it.  

The system doesn’t work, but without kids involved, we don’t know what changes will make a difference. So if we want change, we really need young people to organize.  

Youth organizing is a good strategy and I would say a powerful formula for making change.   Every time I turn around, I see former CYC youth in formal positions of leadership in local and state government, drawing on their important time as youth advocates in these powerful institutional roles . But this doesn’t happen overnight.  That’s why we need to make a long term investment in youth organizing nationally.  

I supported California Youth Connection financially for many years, and started making contributions to Foster Youth in Action when you all started in 2009.  My test of success is whether there is an impact on the lives of young people, and Foster Youth in Action meets this test!