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NorCal Lawyer Uses Her Own Experiences To Advocate For Foster Children

SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) -- Lily Colby fought hard for herself and her siblings when they were children growing up in the foster care system. Now she's helping other foster youth find their voices.

Colby's advocacy on behalf of foster children, and her talent for writing legislative policy, brought the 34-year-old lawyer to Sacramento. Her childhood experiences engendered Colby with a deep empathy for others.

"I need to be able to help people when they are struggling," said Colby. "I grew up in poverty, and in the foster care system. And I know what it is like to move from place to place, and to be separated from my siblings, and to see injustice or to experience it first hand, or to have it happen to my brothers or foster siblings."

It's that lived experience, coupled with a pandemic career reset, that inspired Colby to start her own online business, aptly called With Lived Experience. Colby hopes it will provide a safe space for foster children and other marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+, non-binary, and polyamorous identifying or questioning individuals, and those with mental health care concerns to find community, build skills and gain knowledge. Colby herself identifies as queer and uses the pronouns she and they interchangeably.

"There is a foster youth bill of rights," explained Colby. "And a few years ago the foster care ombudsperson surveyed young people who are in care, and only 3% even knew that they had rights. And young people in foster care have a lot of rights."

Rights like the ability to see biological siblings. Colby and her younger brother David were separated as foster children by a legal system neither understood.

"I remember going to court and not knowing what was going on," recalled Colby of her past in the foster care system. "And feeling like it was a waste of time, or not going to court at all."

It's a cycle Colby's determined to break by urging foster care community inclusion from policymakers, judges, and even other lawyers.

"What I'm trying to do is push the system to not make decisions about people without them," declared Colby. "True empowerment is saying we will listen to you because you know more about your situation than we do."

So far, Colby's focus groups and pro-bono coaching have been a success. She's now able to work about 30 hours a week, consulting with non-profits and government agencies so she has more time to spend with family and friends.

Colby keeps a busy schedule, as she also serves on the board for Services for Children, a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to children in the Bay Area, a position she was recruited for.

But Colby says launching her new business also has reflected her own lived experience.

"Not every day is easy," shared Colby. "I'd say I regularly get setbacks. I have ideas and partnerships where you know what you hope for, doesn't happen. There's a lot of burnout ... struggling in poverty or in the foster care system. And for me, I can't look away from that."


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