They Think We're Criminals

Two years ago, while sitting around the table at our monthly Family Dinners, one of our teens shared a recent experience of being treated like a criminal and "troubled kid." This caused a boisterous reaction from all the folks in the room, young and old, who've had a lived experience in foster care. Their descriptions of how social workers and educators treated them were hard to swallow. Even worse was how general members of the public engaged with them once they found out they were in foster care. 

Whether in the media, in the community, in the classroom or with social workers, youth in foster care feel they are defined by their deficiencies, not by their strengths. If true, this must contribute to a self-fulfilling dynamic of negative behaviors and outcomes.

As the conversation continued into the night, the focus shifted from laughter and comparing stories, to a collective energy around changing this experience for future generations. It was decided that the first step would be to validate their experience, then to share their findings - ultimately "holding a mirror up" for the public.

From there, we compiled a research team led by Dr. Leslie Ponciano who worked in collaboration with our teens and alumni to complete Phase 1 of our new "Changing The Narrative" initiative - a formal research component that will ultimately inform curriculum-based training and support for the education and social service sectors.

The survey was completed by nearly 2,500 members of the public in Los Angeles and the results were no surprise to our community. Perhaps the most validating piece of data came from the public’s perception of youth in foster care in the media.

Results from our survey (chart below & full report HERE) suggest that there is an overwhelming bias in the perception of media portrayal of youth in foster care. Specifically, youth in foster care are seen as being portrayed as victims, criminals, survivors and drug addicts. They are significantly less likely to be perceived as professionals, role models, mentors, loving parents / children and heroes. This suggests a systematic bias in the perception of youth in foster care toward negative stereotypes.

 

The foster care alumni who reviewed these results were struck by the lack of positive images that the public identified. The only potential positive media portrayal in the top 5 was “survivor”. However, this was coded as a neutral media portrayal by our research team as the foster care alumni explained that a “survivor” portrayal is often tied to the more negative identity of being a victim. The positive coded media portrayals all came in with only 5% or less of respondents expressing that they would see youth in foster care in these types of roles.

Through our first phase of research, Changing the Narrative has collected and analyzed preliminary data to measure the extent and depth of this implicit bias and guide further inquiry. This report highlights our initial findings, which will set the course for the Changing the Narrative project over the next few years. Our ongoing research is the evidence-based foundation for professional development training targeting the education and social service sectors to change the narrative about youth in care.

I am honored and privileged that Peace4Kids, our youth and alumni are leading Changing the Narrative. This project combines rigorous academic research, youth-centered participation and tangible systems change.

If we are to shift the perceptions of youth in foster care, then the policies and practices of our government and child welfare must also take center stage so that a clear understanding of the context can be achieved. Peace4Kids will invest it’s time and resources to this conversation and will be sharing our discoveries through blogs and podcast. The perspective of our youth and alumni must be amplified if we truly seek to create an equitable society.

To support Changing The Narrative, please consider:

  • Joining our Heroes Circle with a monthly recurring gift or increasing your ongoing contribution!
  • Contacting Zaid to participate in the research or to help P4K create media that is informed by those with a lived experience.

In peace and possibilities, 




Zaid Gayle

Executive Director

Zaid@Peace4Kids.org

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Breaking Down Barriers

After 12 years in the P4K community, we're excited to share that Antwoine Laws is the first qualified candidate to accept Peace4Kids brand new housing opportunity in LA!

Yes, his positive energy and smile are contagious (we can all agree to that) but it's his hard work and genuine care for himself and others that make Antwoine the perfect partner for the launch of this program. Go brother Antwoine! Keep paving the way for the future!!!

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Last year, when Antwoine and our LEAD group developed a list of barriers to their success, homelessness was at the top of the list. Affordable housing is near impossible to come by in Los Angeles and with rental rates often pricing out potential renters, we have lost many Peace4Kids alumni to neighboring cities and states; forced into another move by a system that has failed to adequately serve them.

We brainstormed ideas, and shared their list with our volunteers and stakeholders asking folks to support our increased efforts to support our Transitional Age Youth (TAY).  In response, over 100 supporters joined our Heroes Circle by signing up for recurring monthly donations.

One family, the Mathews were so struck by the housing disparity that they launched their very own foundation Home4LAYouths and offered Peace4Kids TAY a whole floor of apartment units in a building they own in Downtown LA. 

These units would be offered well below market rate, but we still needed financial support to cover the gap that might exist for some of our transitioning youth. One of our alumni, Angelica Nwandu, was so touched by this family’s generosity that she decided to match their financial gift with one of her own — a $50,000 commitment!

Because of these gifts, more youth will have the opportunity to stay in their community to fulfill their educational and career goals. Most importantly, they will gain a sense of ownership and fidelity over their destiny.

Antwoine Laws is the first recipient of this housing opportunity. When asked about his initial reaction to the news Antwoine said, “I was shaking. This is a place I can finally call my own - and even though I'm having this adventure on my own, there's still somebody (the Mathew's family) so close that's looking out for me, and that's really dope!"

This month, in honor of National Foster Care month, we're excited to share our ongoing strategies to positively change the outcomes of youth in foster care. Watch the video below to hear more from Antwoine, and join the movement today by becoming a part of our Heroes Circle! 

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I Wish Every Day Was Saturday!

Last Saturday, over 100 Peace4Kids volunteers, alumnae, caregivers and supporters came together to celebrate the indelible bond created by the Foster Care journey.

Steve Yablok and the Fais Do Do family graciously hosted, providing a deeply intimate and connected space.  Daniel Lopilato and band filled the air with musical light, love and energy. Thanks to Chloe’s Clean Cuisine, we shared an amazing community meal. Chloe’s original, whole foods, vegan recipes and menu align with the Peace4kids philosophy around sustainable food equity.

The tribe’s energy was palpable – tenured and new volunteers spoke to the immediate sense of belonging and the divine nature of connectivity. Each volunteer was acknowledged with an “I wish every day was Saturday” commemorative t-shirt.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we honored Deirdre Lopilato, Antwoine Laws, Jenny Serrano and Angelica Nwandu - 4 generations deeply impacted by the Foster Care experience. Each shared the value and reciprocal benefit of Peace4Kids, their personal evolution, and the ability to create legacy and change in the child welfare system.

We capped off the evening by expanding our Heroes Circle – and receiving a $50K investment from Angelica Nwandu to launch our transitional aged housing program.

80% of Peace4Kids service delivery is selflessly contributed by our amazing volunteer family. We’re deeply grateful for your continued and collective support – accelerating an internal revolution and impacting the community forever.

 

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An authentic portrayal of the foster care journey

While all young adults struggle with finding their voice and their path, those with a history in foster care have complexities that are hard to understand.

Typically, the relationships with intergenerational allies – both biological family and friends, help us navigate this difficult transition to adulthood. But what happens when these allies are non-existent? What if those who went before us are the reason why we question our very existence? These are the questions highlighted by our very own Angelica Nwandu & Jordana Spiro in what LA Times dubbed an "Emotionally poignant film".

The Director, Jordana, is a former Peace4Kids volunteer and supporter. The co-writer, Angelica (Angie), is an alumna of Peace4Kids and currently sits on our Board of Directors. I do not endorse this film because of my personal ties. In fact, my deeply connected relationship to Angie made watching this film a much more painful experience.

I have mentored Angie for the past 15 years of her life. I have witnessed her attempt to anchor her story and heal from the pain of her past. I have watched the dynamics with her sisters shift while her doubts sent her into the darkest corners of her soul. I have also witnessed her find the light and transform her pain into inspiration. Intimately knowing the darkness has given her the ability to see opportunity where others are too afraid to go. 

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Everything I believe about food, I learned from a five-year-old.

NoneEverything I believe about food, I learned from a five-year-old. It was her lesson, twenty years ago, that gave birth to our food justice campaigns.

In the early days of Peace4Kids, we were only a garden -- the 99th Street Elementary School Peace Garden. I was in my early 20s and a very strict vegan. This caused friction with many of our youth’s parents and caregivers because at all of our program activities, we allowed only plant-based foods to be served. When the children questioned this, I would explain about the food ecosystems and the impact meat has on our health, as well as the environment. As a result, they began requesting plant-based diets at home. This led to nightly calls from angry caregivers during dinner time. The complaint was always the same, “You made these kids not want meat?! Then you need to come over here and feed them.”

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Nourishing the Seeds

Nourishing The Seeds

Foster care creates a rich yet tough soil where youth must learn to advocate for themselves in order to survive. Through community nourishment, youth gain the power to transform the landscape of their journey. This is the beautiful challenge of the work of Peace4Kids.

 

 

 

 

 

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Discover the Possibilities

Discover the Possibilities

Imagine having your deepest and darkest secrets being shared with strangers before you even meet them. Now imagine having to rely on these strangers to help you navigate the trials of life. Your past becomes your present and determines your future. The trauma(s) become your identity.

For our youth, these traumas live in the case files that are exchanged from social worker to social worker and foster home to foster home. One young man recently asked, “How can they see my possibilities if all they ever heard about are my struggles?

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My Voice Matters

unknown_hero.jpgMY VOICE MATTERS

In honor of Mother’s Day, and our 20-year anniversary, Peace4Kids co-founder Marni Otway shares how she found the courage to use her voice to expand the Peace4Kids model to New Zealand.


I met Zaid 20 years ago and was immediately drawn in by the power of his voice. When he spoke, people listened intently. His confidence and relatability were undeniable. He seemed to be comfortable with all types of people and could engage with them on a deeply personal level. He was everything that I wished I could be. He became my confidante, my partner and my guide. It was this relationship that led to the creation of Peace4Kids and it was the youth that inspired me to expand to New Zealand. 

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From Suffering to Storytelling: An Art Exhibit Celebrating National Foster Care Month

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An Invitation from Miriam Cortez

Peace4Kids Program Coordinator

Saturday, May 19th | 5:00pm - 8:00pm

Showcasing original artwork in honor of National Foster Care month.

Back Umbrella Tattoo Gallery

12951 Main Street

Garden Grove, CA 92840

RSVP on Facebook or send an email letting us know you're coming!

 

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I Am Present

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A 20 Year Reflection from our Co-founder and Executive Director Zaid Gayle

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At Sunday’s Family Dinner, we encouraged our Teens and mentors to share a time in their life when they felt stuck. When they knew that their mind was holding them back, but also trying to tell them something profound.  They were asked to share that feeling with someone close to them and to come up with an “I am” statement that reflected the change they were looking to make - an affirmation that would help them transcend their current state. For the past 20 years, mine has been “I am present.”

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