This is an excerpt from Janice's story about how last year's trip to Japan affected her and IFCA's work:
Before actually going to Japan, I worried that I wasn’t going to be relatable, and ideas of impostership floated in my brain like some infectious disease. I had concerns that my experiences in care couldn’t possibly be relevant to people from other cultures and countries. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. The conversations IFCA fostered in Japan taught me that while our circumstances may have been different, our experiences (and their impacts) were the same.
When we were in Tokyo we had the honor of putting on a workshop for some current foster youth in that area. At the beginning of that workshop, they were so shy they didn’t want to share even their names. However, by the end of the two hours we had with them and after sharing our experiences in care, these Japanese youth were making incredibly insightful policy recommendations – ones I am confident you will all find incredibly familiar:
- They felt like their social workers didn’t actually know them
- They wanted more opportunities to form relationships with other alumni of care
- They wished that their social workers were more consistent
- They felt like they were burdensome to their foster parents, especially financially
- They were upset that they had to say goodbye to so many foster siblings because of placement instability. To them it felt like losing the only family they had ever known.
During my years in care, these are just a few things I found to be frustrating, and constantly wished I could change:
- I felt like my social workers didn’t actually know me, and I wished they were more consistent. I had so many social workers growing up that I never remembered any of their names. Every two or three months I got a new one. How is it possible to form any sort of relationship with that sort of inconsistency?
- I felt isolated in my community. Unlike my Japanese friends, I knew that there were other foster kids, but I was still the “weird” one of my friend group that lived with her sister. Some of my friends’ parents didn’t let my friends come over to my house because they felt that there was no “adult” supervision.
- I felt burdensome to my foster parents, especially financially. I felt so burdensome in fact, that I worked full time during my spring breaks and had a part time job throughout the school year in addition to a rigorous academic program – just so I could feel like I was contributing.
- I constantly feared that I would lose touch with my biological brothers, neither of whom lived in the same home as me. In fact, I did lose touch with my older brother for many years, and it is only recently that he and I have found a way to renew that sibling connection....
While there may be an ocean between us, the issues are the same at heart, and realizing this is something that I think was healing for everyone.
What we experienced in these conversations and workshops taught me so much about Japan’s foster care system, and sparked ideas about the successes and failures of the foster care system that I had grown up in. I witnessed a community of people dedicated to serving their youth... I also saw a country where there was such a need for youth voice and youth perspective, and met youth who felt silenced and ashamed – just like me. While this may sound like a statement that leaves little room for positivity, I will say that it leaves me with nothing but hope – hope for the change that we have the potential to create.
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IFCA's Seattle Alumni Team will be traveling to Japan in September. There, they will work with Japanese foster youth, visit group home facilities, speak with members of Japanese Congress, organize and present in several summits, present at an international conference on child abuse and prevention, and support their Japanese peers in advocating for foster youth globally. We can't do this without…
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