Advocate of the Month; Anna Zhang!

In childhood, we often find our siblings to be our greatest champions- they’re our best friends, our biggest support; they’re the people\ who stand by us when times get tough, through any situation

Sibling bonds are diverse and remarkable, and allow children to develop a foundation for what positive, wholesome relationships should resemble in the future to come. In the case of foster children, sibling relationships are even more impactful to their development, as siblings often provide a sense of stability, support, and family that is lost when children are separated from their parents and enter transient care.

Former foster youth now Florida A&M University student Anna Zhang, understands the complexity of this sibling bond better than most. Removed from the custody of their par6ents, Anna depended on the companionship of her sister Jenny in the various foster homes they went through for support. Prior to their time in foster care Anna was her sister’s primary caretaker, accustomed to assisting her younger sibling with school, life, and daily routines. In many ways, siblings Anna and Jenny Zhang were interdependent, a unit which functioned optimally when working together and suffered if separated.

In times and circumstances when Anna and her sister were placed in separate foster homes, or in the case of one foster mother’s wishes when they were purposefully separated and placed in different homes as a result of a sibling spat, both girls experienced extreme anxiety and depression. Neither sister had lived a day apart from one another. As such, the additional anxieties of sibling separation took a drastic toll on the foster youth in the months between scheduled visits.  However finally, after cycling for four and a half years through various foster parents and homes, Anna and Jenny found themselves within the care of a foster mother who understood the importance of their relationship and keeping the girls together. After years of struggle, sisters Jenny and Anna found themselves once again an inseparable unit, facing the challenges of life and foster care together with one another’s support.

The intense bond of Anna and Jenny was an anchor in both girls’ lives as they experienced waves of foster homes and temporary caretakers.  Anna, now serving as a Legislative Chair member for the nonprofit advocacy organization Florida Youth SHINE, seeks to empower foster youth who’s stories and backgrounds, similar to her own, remain unspoken for. Through her work and the work of foster youth advocates like her, Florida Youth SHINE is able to collaborate with Florida’s Children First and state legislators on behalf of laws and legislation effecting foster and at risk youth in Florida.

The dedication of individuals such as Anna (who’s personal accounts of the foster care system ignite action within agencies seeking to spark change) and the drive of organizations such as Florida Youth SHINE to empower at-risk children, has become and will continue to lay the foundation for the framework of legislative change within child welfare.

We here at Future Effect would like to commend Florida Youth SHINE, and honor Anna Zhang as our Child Advocate Star of the Month, for her commitment towards legitimatizing the narratives of foster children statewide and improving youth welfare. Through the advocacy of Zhang and the YouthSHINE organization at the state level, policies regarding sibling placements and visitation are being rewritten in order improve the well-being of foster youth. It is our hope that the continued commitment towards assisting our foster youth in reaching their full potential will realize impactful changes within welfare policy and management; allowing for the development of positive, supportive relationships- like that between Anna and Jenny.