Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Youth share concerns with lawmakers

Apathetic: Lacking interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifferent.

This is definitely not how I would describe the nearly 100 youth who participated in today's Children and Youth Summit. Zealous, informed and concerned would be the appropriate adjectives.

Photo (above): Students participate in a brainstorm of health and human services concerns at the Children and Youth Summit at the State Capitol.

Youth from across the state came together to brainstorm ideas on health and human services, education and environment issues. The high school students presented their concerns to state legislators for consideration as possible priority issues to focus on during the 2009 Legislative Session.

I sat in on the small group discussion on health and human services. Seated around a large conference table, students - resembling young legislators eager to get their voices heard - quickly identified three pages worth of concerns from cigarettes and alcohol to foster care and health insurance.

Brandon Antonius, a senior from Kihei Public Charter High School, took issue with the way tobacco and alcohol companies target youth through glamorized campaign ads. "It's been glamorized over the years," said Antonius. "We need rules to stop the glamorization of them." Antonius also raised a concern with tobacco companies targeting youth through flavored cigarettes. Another major issue that many students brought up was the exorbitant amounts of cigarette and alcohol ads in store windows. They suggested that laws be implemented to decrease the amount of ads permitted.

Tamara Tovio, a Kailua High School student, raised a personal concern about the frequency of social worker visits. Tamara, a foster care child, wants to see change within the Department of Human Services foster care program. "Don't throw kids into the program and then leave them there," she said. Case workers routinely visit foster care children at their homes once a month. However, Tamara and other foster children in the discussion group gave others the impression that sometimes visits are less frequent. She emphasized the fact that a lot of foster children want and need their case workers to see them often. They don't want to be forgotten. Another participant in the discussion mentioned that a lot of foster care case workers have heavy case loads.

Photo (from left to right): Casey-Lynn Hulihee, Rocksand Halima-Grammer, Tamara Tovio and Joe Taglies shared their concerns about foster care in Hawaii during a small group discussion on health and human services at the State Capitol.

Tamara also mentionedthe need for more family visitations. In a written abstract to the Legislature, Tamara writes, "I would propose that the Legislature either provide more opportunities for family members, biological if all possible, to become involved in our lives and care needs."

She also writes, "if this really happens, then there would be a possibility of decreasing many of us, of feeling that we are lost being tossed from location to location, there would probably be less runaways from program to program, and there would be more individuals, including me, knowing that someone cares about us and we are part of a family."

Tomorrow will be the second day of the Children and Youth Summit. The event will focus on issues related to children 0-12 years of age. The summit is sponsored by the Keiki Caucus.

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