HARTFORD â€“ Though the next legislative session wonâ€™t convene for more than a month, the Legislative Office Building was bustling Tuesday morning during the eighth annual Youth at the Capitol Day.
Hosted by Connecticut Voices for Children, Tuesdayâ€™s event was a chance to for current and former foster children, advocates and legislators to discuss the foster care system. Over the course of the day, panelists and speakers discussed their experiences through foster care, resources available to youth and ways to improve the system.
â€śIâ€™ve grown in so many ways while in foster care,â€ť said 16-year-old Mia Williams. â€śI learned the value of family, even if itâ€™s not my own.â€ť
Williams said sheâ€™s continually learning coping skills and anger relief skills in her new home. She said she wants to continue to be an advocate for youth in foster care services and has been actively working to become a leader, not a follower.
â€śIâ€™m not normal, but Iâ€™d rather be different than the same as everyone else,â€ť Williams said.
While Williams is in a good place now, things arenâ€™t always easy for youth in the foster care system. Asia Rodriguez, 17, explained her experience as a transgender youth with a foster care family.
â€śThere was one Thanksgiving in my former foster home where I was not allowed to dress in my preferred clothing,â€ť Rodriguez said. â€śThat really got to me. I donâ€™t mind compromising, but they way it was sprung at me to address the situation was not appropriate.â€ť
That was her first Thanksgiving without her mother, and it negatively affected her mental health. This experience was also a learning experience for Rodriguez, who learned more about herself.
â€śAt the end of the day Iâ€™ve learned to love myself and do what makes me happy,â€ť she said.
Rodriguez and other panelists used this situation to emphasize an important part of the foster care system - families should have as much information as possible before a foster child moves in with them. Rodriguezâ€™s family should have been aware of her gender identity before the move in, others concluded.
During the morning-long event, Connecticut Voices for Children policy fellow Stephanie Luczak and assistant policy fellow Jessica Nelson presented their report, â€śWho I Am, Where I Belong, and Where I Am Going: Promoting Positive Identity Development for Youth in Connecticut Foster Care.â€ť
The report gave a few recommendations for the state Department of Children and Families and the foster care system as a whole.
One recommendation was to update the current Adolescent Bill of Rights and Expectations to incorporate protections and supports for identity development and implement a process for all adolescents to receive and be explained these rights.
Another recommendation said DCF should increase the protections for youth who identify as LGBTQ and implement programs to support the identity development of these people.
The final recommendation said DCF should work to improve the assessment and support of identity development of all adolescents who reside in foster care.
For more information about Tuesdayâ€™s event and to read the full report submitted by Luczak and Nelson, go to www.ctvoices.org/youthatcapitol8 .
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.