FFCR Citizen Review Panel Manager Co-Facilitates Youth SHINE Panel at Regional Child Welfare Conference

On December 7, 2017, the Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance hosted its Annual Regional Child Welfare Conference. Several Florida Foster Care Review staff and volunteers attended the conference and participated in sessions on adoption and the impact of substance abuse among other topics.

FFCR’s Citizen Review Panel Program Manager, Marissa Leichter, Esq., co-facilitated an insightful panel of youth from the Miami Chapter of Florida Youth SHINE, for which she serves as an adult mentor. Florida Youth SHINE (Striving High for Independence and Empowerment) is a youth-run, peer-driven organization focused on changing the culture of Florida’s child welfare system. Florida Youth SHINE (FYS) is made up of youth ages 13-24 who use their own positive and negative experiences with the foster care system to educate the public and to advocate with policyakers in order to improve the child welfare system.

The four young people serving on the panel had varied experiences with the foster care system and shared meaningful insights with the group of case managers, Guardians ad Litem, attorneys and administrators in the audience. One youth explained that foster families have a responsibility to know what they are getting into when they agree to foster a youth and that they should not “kick out” a youth when they can’t handle his/her behavior. Another said, “If I would’ve just been put into a good foster home when I was 13, a lot of bad stuff wouldn’t have happened to me.” The youth recommended that when at all possible, they should be involved in the decisions affecting their lives, admonishing professionals to, “Listen to the kids – they know more than you think about what’s good for them.” The final advice from the panel: “Even when it’s stressful – go the extra mile – it makes a difference to us.”

We are grateful to the youth for having the courage to share their experiences and insights and to Florida Youth SHINE for providing them with structure and support to share their message in a productive way. In the year ahead, FFCR will focus on more effectively engaging youth in our Citizen Review Panel hearings and Permanency Roundtables so that they are at the table when decisions are made about their lives.