We’ve all heard of the school to prison pipeline, but there is another insidious structure feeding the prison system: foster care.
On December 5th, I spent the day with men from the Concerned Lifers Organization (CLO) at the Monroe Penitentiary, as they described their journeys toward serving life sentences in prison, which they say felt inevitable. Their ranks are thick with stories of abusive foster homes, committing crimes of survival, and countless social workers—but they also want to use their experience to prevent other young people from experiencing what they did. Their journeys may have been inevitable, they said, but that doesn’t have to be true for young people in state care today.
The State Raised Working Group, a subgroup of CLO comprised of men who experienced foster care prior to serving long prison sentences, works to raise awareness of a system that left them ill-equipped for life beyond state care and that seamlessly fed them into the criminal justice system. Last month they came together to share their findings with Washington state leaders in the foster care and justice communities.
One of the most important aspects of creating transformative change is making sure that those most impacted by problems are meaningfully involved in the development and implementation of solutions.
And while centering those most impacted by a problem might seem like common sense, impacted-communities and people are often the last folks to be consulted by would-be problem solvers. Fortunately, that’s starting to change, but as more and more philanthropists and nonprofit leaders wake up to the need for authentic engagement with impacted-communities, they’re running into a new problem.
How do you engage people with lived-experience in change? How do traditional decision makers meaningfully share power?
I feel very fortunate to have been a part of an organization that’s been focused on answering that question for more than a decade. As the former Director of Youth Programs at The Mockingbird Society, I saw firsthand the incredible change that can happen when young people from across Washington state have the opportunity to meaningfully shape the foster care and homelessness systems for themselves and for those who will come after them.