Not many kids can say that before they turned 20, they had a hand in writing and lobbying to ensure passage of two state laws.
“The Nevada foster youth come together each year to talk about what’s working and what’s not, and they went out farther and did something about what needed changing for the better,” said Shilling. They are continuing to do that, state-wide. “Most adults, let alone kids with families, wouldn’t have to strive so hard to have attention brought to something that should be so natural, but they did, and they are,” she said.
The rally this year was held here. Advisors met with foster youth from Pahrump and other places around the state to strategize, trade ideas, thoughts and fun times, and vowed to keep on the path of stretching beyond the ordinary.
They also celebrated the passage of two new Nevada laws written by the youths as bills and submitted. The kids followed the bills through legislation into laws that support Nevada’s foster youth. One youth said, “It’s wonderful. And, it’s working.”
Assembly Bill 393 (Revision), expands the rights of foster youth throughout the state. According to the foster youth program manager Kerry Shilling, “It gave all foster youth in the state a shot in the arm to go further and do more for the rights of foster youth.”
When the Sibling Bill of Rights became law in Nevada with the last legislative session, it meant foster youth would be assured of being with, in every way possible, their siblings.
In cases where removal is necessary, there is sometimes more than one child and most of the time, children become separated from brothers and sisters. The bill assures that all siblings are placed together or within close proximity of each other, that they have contact and visitation times (unless a judge rules otherwise) and the right to be informed if any sibling’s circumstances change. It also involves services of Child Welfare support to help any child locate and have contact with a sibling.
Also written and changed by foster youth was Assembly bill-to-law 99. It ensures credit reporting processes for youth in foster care, 16 years old and older. “These are milestones for kids that weren’t used to, meaning they just weren’t used to having a voice,” said Shilling.
Already, foster care organizations and courts are able to move more freely to keep youth from the same families together, according to Shilling. “We are doing all we can to help keep kids’ attention focused on how much they can do that is positive and build a good life for themselves,” she said.
The rally included guest speakers to enthuse and support the 30 attendees. Tiger Todd, a well-known speaker for foster youth, spoke on his experiences of overcoming major challenges and Rhonda Sorontina, writer and speaker all over the United States to kids about her rise to success through foster challenges, gave the kids a boost they can keep, according to Shilling.
The kids also talked about credit reports and how important they are to a future. They played games that teach how to coordinate with each other (even when blindfolded), how to do hard tasks with patience and perseverance, how to stay present and on task even when there is conflict or confusion around them.
Shilling said, “We hope these kids will be this skilled in their adulthood. They could be leaders with compassion.”
Albertsons, Smith’s and Walmart supported in-house snacks for the event. Frazier’s furniture provided cardboard for working events and advisors and youth stayed at the Nevada Treasure RV Resort in Pahrump. Shilling said, “The food was beyond expectation, and every move that could be made was made to be inviting and helpful during the entire event. We’re so grateful.”