In the spring of 2008, YLAT members ratified the Maine Youth in Care Bill of Rights. One year prior, youth in foster care, along with adult allies, gathered for the 10th Annual Youth Summit and the idea for a Youth in Care Bill of Rights was born. The purpose of having a Maine Youth in Care Bill of Rights is to provide youth in care with a resource they can use to advocate for themselves, to make sure that their rights are being honored and upheld, and to improve the foster care system for youth in care currently, and for future foster youth.
The rights of Maine youth in care are defined in law, in policies and in statements of belief. It is a written contract between the state and youth in its care that outlines the rights and responsibilities that foster youth, caseworkers, Guardian Ad Litems, care providers and able biological parents should advocate for, and that youth should expect to receive from their caregivers while in care.
In an effort to provide a comprehensive list of rights, an integrated Youth in Care Bill of Rights was created in partnership with Maine youth in foster care, the Youth Leadership Advisory Team and the Office of Child and Family Services with Adopted Normalcy and Siblings rights from the New England Youth Coalition. Enacted in 2008, revisions as of October 2016.
YLAT members have been strong advocates for the rights of siblings in foster care, who are often separated from one another when child welfare becomes involved in their lives. Since 2000, YLAT members have advocated for new programs, policies and laws to protect the rights of youth and their siblings. These programs, policies and laws have helped reduce sibling separation and increase sibling connections when they are separated.
Camp To Belong Maine – Jennie, a YLAT member, learned about Camp To Belong, a summer camp that reunites separated siblings. She advocated for Maine to create a Camp To Belong and by 2004 Camp To Belong Maine became a reality.
Sibling Bill of Rights – In 2011, YLAT members worked with the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors and New England Youth Coalition United to create the Siblings Bill of Rights (SBOR). The SBOR was developed in recognition of the importance and value of sibling relationships and the need for their preservation. The SBOR was inspired by the stories of youth in foster care across the region, many of whom have permanently lost touch with their brothers and sisters.
DHHS Sibling Visitation and Placement Policy – In 2001, the DHHS Bureau of Child and Family Services Director asked YLAT members to help develop the first-ever DHHS policy for siblings in foster care. They did and it became policy in 2002!
YLAT Position Paper on Sibling Visitation and Placement – This 2001 Position Paper was written by YLAT members during the process of working with DHHS on their Sibling Visitation and Placement Policy.
Sibling Visitation Law, MRSA 4067 – In 2006, the Maine Legislature passed a law that protected the rights of siblings to see one another when at least one of the siblings comes into foster care. The law was the result of 4 years of hard work by a YLAT member and her peers.
What is Normalcy? What is not Normalcy? Two questions that Maine’s youth in care began talking about in 2013. The barriers that being in foster care may present to a young person’s “normal” developmental opportunities are a large part of this ongoing discussion.
“Normal” refers to standard or usual activities regularly experienced by youth who are not in out-of-home care. ‘Out-of-home care’ includes residential treatment facilities, foster homes, group homes, and placements with relatives or kin. In addition to ‘standard or usual activities’, normalcy for youth in out-of-home care includes opportunities for input and participation in decision-making for their cases and day-to-day lives.
The New England Youth Coalition (NEYC) has been working with youth and adult partners to develop a definition of Normalcy and the Normalcy Bill of Rights. Maine adopted and signed the Normalcy Bill of Rights on June 29th, 2016 at the annual Teen Conference for youth in care.
The Normalcy Bill of Rights focuses on six major areas of “Normalcy”:
Social and Peer Inclusion