American and Japanese Foster Youth Leaders Inspire One Another to Improve Child Welfare Systems in their Respective Countries
On September 16, 2017, the participants of the TOMODACHI Foster Youth Leadership Program took part in the TOMODACHI-IFCA Youth Summit in Tokyo. The Summit hosted approximately 100 participants, including foster youths, social workers, child protection facility directors, foster parents and other child welfare professionals.
From August 4 to August 13, six Japanese youths visited Seattle, Washington, and from September 8 to September 17, six American youths visited Japan to participate in the study-tours and observe one another’s culture.
During their program in Seattle, the six Japanese youths (ages 18 – 23) shared their foster care experiences and presented on the United States and Japan’s respective child welfare and independence support systems. The “International Child Welfare Learning Collaborative” event, held at the University of Washington, provided an opportunity not just for the American youths visiting Japan in the fall, but also for the local foster youths to interact with one another.
The Japanese youths visited the Indian Child Welfare Office and learned about the basic legal structure of the U.S. child welfare system and about the child protection officers’ daily work with the Native American population. The Japanese youth members also traveled to others sites, where they gained an understanding of various foster care services, such as education, employment, mental health, and independence preparation.
After returning to Japan, Aoi, a Japanese youth member said, “Listening to what the other youths who have experienced foster care were saying was very refreshing and insightful. It was very meaningful in the way that it has motivated me to rethink my own outlook on life and to incorporate what I have gained into my future activities.”
Subsequently, in September, the six American youths traveled to Tokyo to participate in the 10-day long program. The participants also attended the TOMODACHI Generation Summit at Showa Women’s University on September 10, and one of the American youths, presented on civic engagement.
The American youths had meetings with foster parents in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo as well as in Chiba Prefecture, and visited four different foster care institutions. The youth members attended lectures about the American child welfare system and the realities of group care. They actively exchanged opinions regarding the protection of youths’ rights, life story work, child abuse prevention, and more.
An American youth member, Talia Garcia, said, “Through this program, I have made both Japanese and American friends. Because TOMODACHI and IFCA provided a safe environment for me, I could freely and comfortably interact with other foster youths, professional workers, foster parents, and social workers. This program enabled me to face my own personal goal of wanting to overcome my difficulties and to grow mentally and socially to achieve my dreams.”