Changing the Narrative

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

[email protected]


Join our Heroes Circle by clicking the button below and making a monthly donation to help build a sustainable future for youth transitioning out of foster care. 100% of your donation funds strength based, youth focused programming in South LA - honoring each youth’s unique needs, experiences, and abilities. In return, you'll:

  • Be invited to exclusive events
  • Receive a limited edition "See The Hero" t-shirt
  • Be inspired by stories of resilience, strength and promise from our Peace4Kids family
  • #SeeTheHero in our youth, because the truth is… that’s who they are.