Seneca Youth Advisory Board (YAB)

What if we could promote change through illuminating youth voices?

Photo of Celeste Walley
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

I am a founding member of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) at Seneca Family of Agencies. I have been in the foster care system for two years. Some of my peers have been in since birth. The system has failed each of us in different ways. It has taken us and placed us in homes we didn't want to live in. It has decided when and how we got to see the people that we love. The system has taken our freedom and choices away, when it wasn't our fault we were in the foster care system in the first place. We felt punished and powerless. As we grew, matured, and and became independent, the less we understood why the system got to determine what was best for us. A system that failed to include our voices and opinions in making decisions that directly affected us. This angered us all. We decided that the foster care system would no longer silence our voices and withhold us from our freedom. We wanted to take action and matters into our own hands. Our voices are our tools to regain power over our lives. Five voices are louder than one. We came together and founded the Youth Advisory Board so people could hear us, so other foster youth will know they are not alone, and so we can change the system for others.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Current members live in San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Sacramento. Our efforts are most significant in these immediate areas, with the youth and families we meet with directly, however the systemic changes we envision will support youth in foster care all over the state.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The foster care system is failing us. Former foster youth have very high rates of incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, and many suffer from PTSD. YAB improves the foster care system by doing three things: We talk to lawmakers. We want use our voices to impact the foster care system because we lived it. We can improve the system if the lawmakers and decision makers have a better understanding of foster youth experiences. We talk to direct service staff. We tell new staff about our lives so they understand what it’s like from our perspective. We train them on what works and what doesn't when considering how to effectively serve youth. We talk to each other. We make space for lonely or isolated youth to branch out and meet other youth who understand and can speak to their similar experience with only intentions of support and care.

The group itself is the solution to all of the problems we are trying to beat. YAB is youth run and helps foster youth to feel empowered and in charge of their lives.

For me, as a foster youth and as a YAB founder, I see the group as a tool for change, to help young people to grow and develop useful skills for adulthood. I have gained skills like public speaking, how to be involved and present in an interview or be an active part of group meetings.  YAB creates responsibility and commitment and overall makes you feel important because of the change you are causing.

This group teaches kids to speak out and be assertive in areas where you want to see change. It adds the fuel to the fire that burns deep in every foster kid and allows a burst of flames to immense and like a phoenix out the flames; a candid, noble and literate youth is created and reborn. Foster youth endure significant trauma, but each one of us have the capacity to emerge from the flames as a phoenix, and share our strength and wisdom with others.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Our group gives foster kids a chance to use their voices to not only help others but to be able to retell their special stories in their own way. Whether we are addressing lawmakers in the capital about how their proposed laws will impact foster youth, or sharing our stories at new staff trainings at Seneca to improve services, or encouraging other foster youth to join our self-run YAB talks, where we can talk support and connect with other, what we do is speak our truth. In foster care you feel very isolated in your situation and may feel like no one understands you. Through YAB, we educate, inspire, and support each other. We create a positive space for youth to come together to relieve stress that can come from everyday life.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

YAB activities influence the cultural mindset of decision makers, change Seneca’s agency practices, and connect individuals to build relationships so that foster youth can support each other. Over the last year, YAB activities have made the following impacts in our community: Influencing decision makers: YAB members were invited to speak before lawmakers in Sacramento about abolishing group homes. Alameda County Mental Health solicited YAB’s input on how to support youth in the region and build collaboration with the county. Changing agency practices: YAB has trained over 600 new Seneca staff members to better understand foster youth perspective. Post training evaluations sheets rated the session very highly. One attendee commented: "Staff can go to school and study all they want, but hearing YAB personal stories teach me so much more about working with youth."

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

YAB is currently funded through a few different funding streams, including: SF Connections, Seneca’s Special Projects fund, and is also youth supported. In order to keep our project growing, we will do as much fundraising as possible. That might include: Starting a Go Fund Me page, selling youth made food, car washes and community clean-ups. We also try to get food donated for our events, we do appeals for free rental spaces for events to be held

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are other youth groups who want to change the system. YAB is different because although it is youth driven, it is also well supported by adults that work within the Seneca organization. Seneca employs over 1,400 people, all over California and Washington State. We have a lot of direct access to training those staff and can reach a big pool of foster youth. We are a part a foster care agency so we have an understanding of the steps needed to be taken to change the system. The organization has already caused changes in the system allowing concrete steps while also making our own path.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

We need to create programs that work directly with interventions and trainings for at-risk kids and their families to prevent a child from going into foster care in the first place. A lot of displacements can be avoided by simply supporting a family. Once in foster care, we need foster parents that understand how to deal with trauma and what kinds of steps are needed to find permanency and success for each kid that comes into a foster home.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Program Design Clarity

Community focus: San Francisco and Oakland foster youth Provider training: We train providers on what works and what doesn't when considering how to effectively serve a youth in order to achieve the overall goal of permanency and success in a youth's life. Last year, we trained more than 600 service providers. YAB graduation ceremony Large, annual event to celebrate and honor graduating participants. 20 attendees YAB Talks: Youth-hosted events for youth within the foster care system to educate, support and create a positive space for youth to come together.

Community Leadership

Our group attends San Francisco’s monthly Community Outreach meeting. At this meeting we present our work to city and county officials, including the Mayor’s office. We network with other organizations who work closely with foster youth. This gives our group opportunities and resources in areas we would like to become more involved in like policy reform.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 12+

Spread Strategies

In order to achieve our group’s full impact we need to branch out into different counties which Seneca serves within California and Washington. Starting mini YAB pods to support a bigger pool of youth. These mini pods will be run by delegate youth to represent their county as a whole, in the larger Youth Advisory Board. We will also increase our impact by creating a full day training seminar for service staff about the youth perspective.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

For me, as a foster youth, I see the group as a tool for change, to help young people to grow and develop useful skills for adulthood. I have gained skills like public speaking, how to be involved and present in an interview or be an active part of group meetings. YAB creates responsibility and commitment and makes you feel important because of the change you are creating.This group teaches kids to speak out and be assertive in areas for change.

Leadership Story

I am one of the five founding members of YAB. I have been centrally involved in many of the group’s activities over the last year and a half. A pivotal point in our group’s growth was this summer when we got our very first internships. The internship gave me and the other YAB founders a chance to take on more responsibility in running the group. This was a key point because the group became truly youth-led. I will soon be starting college. I feel like I can now look at YAB and say this is what I started. And, I know my little sister can join something that is going to help her find her voice


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Photo of Jack Ponting

I would like to appreciate Celeste Walley for their efforts put into write this amazing blog and share with us. Keep it up!
Regarding, Jack.

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