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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
HomenewsLinden Teen Aids in Passage of New Foster Care Law

Linden Teen Aids in Passage of New Foster Care Law

Deanna Lescouflair, a senior at Linden High School, assisted in drafting and advocating for the passage of legislation to protect sibling relationships for children and adolescents in New Jersey’s child welfare system.

The “Siblings’ Bill of Rights,” which was signed into law in January, codifies foster youth’s rights to remain actively involved in the lives of their siblings and, where applicable, to have their voice heard in the permanency planning process for their siblings.

In 2020, as part of DCF’s Office of Family Voice, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) established a Youth Council in order to hear the perspectives of young people who have been involved in the state’s foster care system and to collect their feedback on ways to improve it. Lescouflair is one of approximately twenty youths who are members of this Youth Council.

She and her colleagues drafted the Siblings’ Bill of Rights, met with influential legislative leaders, and produced a video in support of the bill’s passage.

Lescouflair stated that being separated from his sister was one of the most difficult aspects of being in the child welfare system. “I had no contact with her for four months after she left before I was able to have visits with her. This is a recurrent issue that many children in the child welfare system have faced. As a member of the DCF Youth Council and by advocating for this bill, I was able to assist other children who may have experienced similar problems.”

“The bill is significant to me because it allows me to maintain contact with my siblings,” said Lescouflair. This new law ensures communication between siblings, which is essential for separated children.

DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer stated, “Lescouflair and her young colleagues led the movement every step of the way, from developing legislative language to securing the sponsorship of legislators to advocating for the bill to celebrating its successful passage.”

The Department of Children and Families reports that approximately 54% of children placed outside the home have at least one sibling. This legislation affects 1,638 children.

Commissioner Beyer stated, “This bill exemplifies the power of shared leadership and the significance of having individuals with lived experience play a meaningful role at the table.” “I am incredibly, incredibly proud of our Youth Council members who worked tirelessly to advance this initiative.”

Governor Murphy also lauded the young reformers: “I was deeply moved, as I’m sure were my legislative counterparts, by the compelling recommendations of the Youth Council, who shared their personal experiences with the child welfare system. We hope that this bill will allow siblings in the child welfare system to maintain some stability and continuity during what may be the most difficult time of their young lives.”

In addition to advocating for the bill, Youth Council members have assisted their peers across the state in other ways. They redesigned a website for youth, assisted in the creation of scripts for two public service announcements for mental health, and issued and awarded a request for proposal (a government solicitation for professional services) for a peer mentorship programme.

“In support of other youth entering foster care, the Youth Council developed the EnlightenMENT Peer2Peer mentoring programme to provide resources and serve as an outlet for youth currently in care,” explained Lescouflair. The mentors’ lived experience in the foster care system allows the youth to feel heard and to have a big brother or sister to watch out for them.

Lescouflair is pursuing a biotechnology career while maintaining a part-time job and maintaining her academic standing. However, she will retain the lessons she learned while working to pass major state legislation.

“Being a part of the legislative process has allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge of the life cycle of a bill, from conceiving the idea and drafting the language, to advocating for it, to anxiously awaiting the bill’s passage in the legislature before it reaches the Governor’s desk,” she said. My fellow Youth Council members and I were thrilled to be a part of the process and effect change in New Jersey’s child welfare system, despite the arduous work and commitment required.

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Parvesh
Parvesh
Parvesh is the Content Writer for New Jersey Local News. Here at New Jersey Local News, she covers local news of New Jersey state. Moreover, Parvesh likes to dance and listen to music. She also finds time in her hectic schedule to relax and spend time with loved ones.
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