As lawmakers arrived at the Capitol Monday morning, March 25, they saw thousands of colorful cut-outs of children’s hands hanging in the Rotunda. That means it’s Children’s Week at the Legislature.
Another sure sign of Children’s Week is the annual training by Florida Youth SHINE, the advocacy group for young people who’ve been in foster care. Anna Zhang is their legislative chair. Now a graduate student at Florida A&M University, this is her fourth legislative session – and she’s focused on Youth SHINE’s top priority, a bill of rights for foster care.
“So we have a lot of meetings set up. We’re going to have busy days. In my role as chair, I’ll be floater and I’ll be sitting in on each group, and the kids are going to share their stories, and tell their legislators why this is important and why we should have a bill of rights and that 26 other states have a bill of rights, so why shouldn’t Florida have one?”
Sunday’s training included young and adult advocates from all over the state. Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, explained his support for a bill aimed at helping abused and neglected children who are involved in multiple court proceedings. They might have both a dependency case and a delinquency case – often in different counties or judicial circuits.
“If we transfer the case to a dependency judge, who’s responsible for the services and the placement – and not just the punishment part, and rehabilitation if there’s any – but now you’ll have one judge who’s responsible for everything. And I think kids will do better because that judge is going to care about the kids ‘cause they’ve had the kids for years.”
Also on hand was Jeff DeMario, CEO of Vita Nova, which serves youth in transition in West Palm Beach. He said it’s no coincidence that Florida overhauled its fostercare system after hearing from kids who’d been in it.
“I think that it’s great for legislatures to hear from young people. A lot of the greatest ideas can come from people that are going through a struggle, or are part of a system, and so they get to hear first-hand from the constituents that are receiving foster-care services. So it’s just a great all-around experience for both our Legislature and our youth.”
Children's Week features a slate of activities to bring youngsters to the Capitol, including a teen town hall meeting, a news conference and a storybook village.