The 8th annual DCYF/DJJS Teen Conference was held on August 9th at Keene State College. The theme for this year’s conference was “When Life’s not Fair”. The theme was marked throughout the day.
Highlights included a mobile fair that was equipped with a variety of games and activities including a bounce house, a bungee run, padded suit sumo wrestling, speed pitch, ski ball, and numerous other carnival games. The conference wasn't all just fun and games, though. Youth were able to choose from twelve workshops that concentrated on topics such as online safety, healthcare options, getting a job, finding an apartment, financial literacy, self-advocacy, and higher education.
The first part of the conference that stood out for me was the keynote presentation of Digital Stories as it really reflected the “When Life’s not Fair” conference theme. The digital stories involved several youth who put together scripts of their life stories. The stories were based on subjects such as permanence and being strong. After they wrote the scripts, they did a voice-over and collected photos or videos for a clip that got put together on a special program. I feel that this keynote was better than any of the other presentations over the last eight years. It really set the tone for the conference and made people remember that, while sometimes life isn’t fair, life can certainly get better and, by creating a great conference, DCYF is able to give youth the tools to help achieve better lives.
Corey, a former youth in care, was one of the ten current and former youth who created a Digital Story. In his story Corey reflected on finding his voice, "I did everything they wanted me to, but . . . I was powerless," he said. “At first, I did it by pounding my fists on the table and yelling at people until they had to stop and listen. That doesn't get you very far. I got fed up and realized it wasn't getting me anywhere, so I had my social worker set the schedule of meetings so that I could control it,” he continued.
The next big highlight for me was when Director Maggie Bishop signed the DCYF’s Youth in Care Bill of Rights. These rights are envisioned to guide DCYF and its providers in the provision of care and services to youth in out-of-home care by assuring that DCYF will pursue permanency, safety and well-being. These rights provide youth with a “voice” regarding their DCYF involvement while ensuring opportunities for normalcy. Regarding normalcy, Emily Quigley, former youth in care and now youth consultant for DCYF, said she "lived in a group home where normalcy wasn't a priority. The kids weren't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities because the practice times conflicted with counseling.” While great strides have been taken with normalcy, these rights are going help advance it even more. Director Bishop also signed the New England Youth Coalition’s Sibling Bill of Rights, which properly recognizes the importance of sibling relationships and emphasizes DCYF’s commitment to preserve these important connections for children and youth in State care. These signings are a huge step in providing permanence and normalcy in NH for all youth.
As a former youth in care, I feel that this conference was the best we have ever had in the 8 years of putting it on because of the fact that it stood out by letting others know the youth perspective about their stories and it taught DCYF staff how to the better system.
If you would like to see one of the digital story videos please contact Rick Curtis using the e-mail below: