From Foster Care to Advocacy

Grand opening of the CYC Los Angeles office

Tiffany Boyd considers herself one of the lucky ones. When she was a child, her mother had a nervous breakdown and Boyd was sent to live with her grandmother. Her six other siblings, however, were not so fortunate. They ended up in the foster care system in group homes and, she says, have suffered as a result.

Although she also had her share of difficult times, Boyd is now dedicated to helping others in the foster care system. She is one of dozens of young people who help other foster care youth through the California Youth Connection, an advocacy organization.

“I am dedicated to this cause,” said the 25-year-old. “It is great to have an organization that allows me to advocate and take what we learn and bring it back to my peers.”

CYC, which has branches in 32 counties across the state, has been instrumental in supporting key legislation affecting foster youth, including the passage of AB 12, which gives youth the option of staying in care until the age of 21. The organization also has worked on bills that help improved education, permanency planning, group home care and Independent Living Program regulations. Through a motion sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board approved a five-year agreement between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and CYC that allows the organization to have an office in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard.

The office opening was also made possible through the generous support of both the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and Foster Care Counts in partnership with the DCFS Youth Development Services.

“It is critical that these children receive the support they need into young adulthood,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “CYC offers scholarship advice, college guidance and mental health referrals so that these youth can thrive and become the best they can be.” As part of her advocacy work, Boyd was recently chosen to testify before the state legislature on a bill that would allow foster care youngsters evaluate the system before they leave so that necessary changes can be implemented. She spoke for two minutes and spent the rest of the day “shadowing” House Speaker John Perez.

“We value the voice of foster youth and they should have a say in the policy that affects their lives,” said Joseph Tietz, executive director of CYC.

Boyd can also attest to the challenges of living without parental guidance. For most children in the foster care system, moving on to adulthood can be overwhelming.

At CYC, Boyd said she has received the support she needs, including guidance on how to apply for college for her master’s degree. She hopes to attend California State University, Dominguez Hills in the fall and major in public administration and nonprofit development.

But life often throws her little glitches. When she was selected to go on the trip to Sacramento, she realized she didn’t have the right clothing. She could only turn to her mother, who has struggled with mental illness all of her life.

“My mom had to pawn her necklace and then take me to the thrift store so I could buy my clothes,” said Boyd. “It takes a certain level of confidence to ask others that are not family.”

In June, she is planning on visiting Washington DC with CYC.

“I used to be a young lady who was going, ‘why me?’” she said with a smile. “Now I say, ‘why not me?’”