“Not about us, without us” is a motto frequently used by foster youth to stress the importance of letting youth help make decisions about the foster care system. The concept behind youth voice is that youth best know their situations and best know what solutions youth will embrace. The Department of Family and Protective Services began in 2005 to hire regional Youth Specialist positions, filled by former foster youth who work with current foster youth to organize and advocate for policy changes in the foster care system. While the efforts to include youth voice were innovative, challenges were experienced by former foster youth who found themselves working alongside their former caseworkers.

The purpose of this project is to improve the functionality of Youth Specialists. The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work is participating in a pilot study which will be placing Youth Specialists at public institutes of higher education in order to strengthen the link between higher education and foster care. Based on the reputation of the Child and Family Research Institute, UT School of Social Work was selected as the first pilot site.

The Youth Specialist is responsible for organizing current foster youth in the Central Texas area and representing the voices of foster youth in various settings. The Youth Specialist leads the Youth Leadership Council which is a council of foster youth in the Central Texas Area who meet monthly. The Youth Specialist also helps link youth aging out of the foster care system to resources.

The Youth Specialist position is part of a larger effort of the Child and Family Research Institute to develop the Fostering Horns Program. This program will help prepare foster youth to attend UT and support former foster youth who are on campus.