IFCA’s first mission objective is to create a venue for the US and Japan’s foster care alumni to express their voices and to connect with one another.
To fulfill this mission objective, IFCA felt that the most effective method for this international collaboration is for American and Japanese foster care alumni to meet in person and to share their foster care stories and ideas to better the foster care systems in both countries. IFCA board members were aware that the first International Foster Care Organization (IFCO*) Worldwide Conference in the Asian region was going to be held in Osaka, Japan in September 2013, and thought that this conference would be an ideal venue for the American and Japanese alumni teams to meet for the first time.
IFCA-US Alumni Team members were recruited from the greater Seattle area in Washington in April 2013. Three US Alumni Team members were selected from the 16 candidates who applied to participate in this project. These 3 alumni have worked as foster youth advocates at local, state and federal levels.
In order to recruit alumni team members in Japan, IFCA’s founder traveled in Japan in June 2013 and visited several alumni-led organizations. From this trip, IFCA found 4 Japanese alumni team candidates. Of these four candidates, two had experience running alumni organizations. The other two did not.
At the 2013 IFCO World Conference in Osaka (9/13-9/16), the 3-member American alumni team and the 4-member Japanese alumni team members collaborated on a workshop focused on challenges they encountered after aging out of the foster care system. The presentation highlighted differences and similarities in issues surrounding becoming independent adults in Japan and the US. The groups also explored what they could do to increase support for foster care alumni peers. The 170 people who attended this workshop received copies of the bilingual booklet that contained the alumni members’ essays.
The alumni members found that, despite separate cultures and histories, the US and Japan’s foster care alumni share a common reality. They revealed serious problems in attaining higher education and employment, securing adequate housing and connecting with trustworthy adult figures. There are differences between Japan and the US in how the governments financially support youth and alumni. However, in both countries, young people are forming groups to fight for the betterment of their lives and to improve the child welfare system.
Through the participation in this workshop, alumni team members were able to enhance their sense of self-worth, identity and connectedness. The IFCO Conference brought the Japanese and the American alumni teams together, and they were confident about continuing their friendships and activities in both countries in the future.
In addition to the IFCO Conference workshop, the three IFCA-US Alumni Team members presented in 3 workshops sponsored by civil organizations in the Tokyo area. In one of the workshops, the US alumni team members reached the deepest part of some young Japanese foster children’s hearts. Because of the alumni team’s genuine gesture to reach out and to understand these young people’s foster care experience, they opened up to share their opinions, perhaps for the first time. The alumni team members reported that this experience and all the other experience with foster care alumni, foster parents, and child welfare professionals, gave them a renewed sense of self empowerment and commitment to their advocacy work in their own communities as well as in the global foster care community.
Moreover, one of the IFCA-US Alumni Team members represented the United States as one of the 4 speaker panels in the World Youth Symposium at the IFCO Osaka Conference, and the other two members facilitated this symposium with an audience of several hundred.
Since IFCA’s alumni project is built on the youth-led activity principal, the alumni team members should evaluate the benefits of the most recent activities and determine what the next steps should be. The Alumni Team members in Japan and the US are currently writing essays to report their experiences of international collaboration. IFCA is confident that these alumni reports will reveal the members’ first hand impressions, and their plans and wishes for the future.
In the mean time, IFCA continues to receive positive reviews on the alumni teams’ workshop and symposium presentations. We also acquired several requests for media coverage of the alumni events and for more workshops in coming years. Despite the fact that this collaboration project involved only several foster care alumni of care, people who made inquiries were certain that these young people will become important agents of change in the child welfare systems.
About IFCO: Established in 1981, IFCO is the only international organization that networks foster children, caregivers and professionals working in the child welfare field. IFCO’s worldwide conferences are held every other year, and the recent conference in Canada (2011) drew over 600 people from 60 countries. Over 1000 people participated in the September 2013 Conference in Osaka, and the planning committee provided foster youth, foster parents, and child welfare professionals from all over the world with opportunities to connect with one another. For more information regarding IFCO, please refer to their website. http://www.ifco.info/