Child Welfare Needs to Embrace Youth Potential While Changing Its Own Systems

We have all heard the labels, and sometimes used them ourselves: Foster youth. Special needs kid. Delinquent. Homeless youth. 

Such labels are convenient shorthand, but they don’t reflect all that we need to know about the young person in front of us. They generalize what we think we know about youth in similar circumstances while ignoring the young person’s dreams, talents, fears or triumphs. Yes, it takes longer to say “youth involved in juvenile justice and child welfare” instead of using the shorthand of “crossover youth.” But by avoiding these labels we acknowledge that young people are so much more than the one mistake they made or the list of challenges their family is facing. 

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Susan Notkin is the Senior Vice President of Systems Change at CSSP.