“I thought this was going to be a week where I would need to empower the youth on the importance of their role in the legislative process. Instead, these children empowered me,” says clinic intern, Isabel Jolicoeur. “This week was an incredible experience because I was able to see the youth who have come from tough situations do something amazing.”
During this week, the participants in Florida Youth SHINE shared with Florida legislators their individual stories about their experiences in the foster care system and advocated for changes in the system that are important to them. The legislators are then able to put faces to the bills they are voting for or against, and have a better understanding of the successes and failures of the Florida child welfare system.
The Clinic’s interns helped coach youth on compelling story-telling and legislative advocacy, and then attended three days of back-to-back meetings with legislators.
Florida Youth SHINE’s priorities were to educate the legislators on three important issues to youth in foster care. They stressed that the Keys to Independence Program bill, a pilot to assist youth in foster care in obtaining driver’s licenses, should be made permanent. Also, the DCF needs to incorporate a quality rating system that includes input from children for group homes and foster homes and to acknowledge that even though DCF has a targeted goal of keeping 65% of siblings in foster care together, this percentage is not high enough.
After a full weekend of training in public speaking and the legislative process, the youth and their mentors participated in over 60 meetings to educate legislators on the issues the Florida Youth SHINE members identified as important to them. Numerous senators and representatives stated how inspired they were to hear the youth’s stories and how important their views were on these vital bills, as it would affect children just like them.
“Working in the Children and Youth Law Clinic, there are laws and rules I am frustrated with every day. It was incredible to be able to see these youth, who are impacted by these frustrating laws, try to fix the problems for those in foster care,” says Elizabeth McIntosh. “These youth found their voice by speaking for those who do not have one, and it was unbelievable to watch.”
Legal interns in the Children and Youth Law Clinic work daily to fix problems in the child welfare system on a case-by-case basis. Doing work for organizations like Florida Youth SHINE is important because it gives the Clinic the opportunity address these issues at a higher level, in hopes of making the foster care system better for all children affected by it. Being a mentor for the youth advocates in Florida Youth SHINE gives the youth the support and the belief that what they are doing does make a difference in the world they are living in, and gives the mentors the ability to understand the child welfare system more thoroughly.