For many, turning 22 means relaxing and having fun with friends. But for Rosetta Judd, a member of the Connected Youth Initiative Citizen Review Panel, it meant a trip to Arizona with fellow CYI-CRP members Raevin Bigelow, 21, and Lacey Combs, 20, to represent Nebraska at the 2016 National Citizen Review Panel Conference. Together, these young women spent three days listening to presentations on data and policy change, voicing their opinions on how to improve child welfare, and networking with professionals and community advocates from across the country.
Tackling important issues together
CRPs exist due to a federal bill called the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which gives states dollars to prevent child abuse and neglect and strengthen the systems that serve those who have been affected. In order to receive these dollars, states must have at least three CRPs, and Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services decided one of these should consist entirely of youth with current or former involvement in Nebraska’s system. Enter the CYI-CRP.
The group meets four times a year in person and as needed virtually to review and make recommendations for DHHS policies on youth in child welfare. They also offer ideas for improving practices to help ensure these policies are implemented in effective and meaningful ways. And they don’t shy away from the tough discussions, either: CYI-CRP members have tackled issues from normalcy to foster parent training to youth missing from foster care. Each year, they cap off their work by sitting down with DHHS representatives to share their recommendations and discuss how to make them a reality.
Paving the way to a better future
For all their hard work in Nebraska, the CYI-CRP was selected to present at the conference. Their presentation, “Youth Voices in Action: Strategies for Engaging Older Youth with System Involvement in CRPs,” captured more than 40 attendees and offered tips for pulling in youth as CRP members. It was amazing to watch each of them let their personalities shine as they laughed and learned with so many others. After the presentation, they were practically celebrities. Lines of people waited to talk, ask questions, and take selfies – and one even asked, “Can we fly you to Connecticut?”
As their adult supporter, I was really along for the ride. Their fire burned via questions during keynote presentations and long discussions by the hotel pool with other youth CRP members from various states. They took notes. They exchanged strategies. They hugged and offered support. In those three days, I watched as three young adults who had once walked onto CYI youth councils as alumni overcoming trauma and looking for connections stepped up to become advocates ready to lead policy change that would never benefit them. They want more for their siblings and others who might struggle through state systems as they did, and they’re making it happen.
Perhaps the most powerful thing for me, though, was the responses they gave when asked about why they do what they do. Raevin said, “When labels are put on you, your world becomes limited. We have stepped up and became more than our limits.” Rosetta said, “I’m advocating for part of the world that raised me, and now I get to be part of the rapid change.” And I think Lacey spoke for us all: “What they said!”
About the author: Cassy Blakely, MA, PLMHP, is the Assistant Vice President of Youth Policy at Nebraska Children. Cassy has served in a number of capacities, all focusing on expanding youth voice and engagement at all levels. Her current focus is on helping to influence policies concerning the needs of young people by collaborating with state partners, committees, and policy makers.