Each year for the past 29 years California Youth Connection (CYC) has sent hundreds of current and former youth from across California to a different college campus, for four days, to come up with policy recommendations that they then take to Sacramento in January.
With a 25-year record of policy accomplishments, CYC has remained a force of nature when it comes to foster care-related policy. One of its most famous accomplishments, Assembly Bill 12, gave foster youth in California the option to stay in care until their 21st birthday, helping thousands of youth transition into adulthood.
Last month, CYC youth came together at Sonoma State University for the organization’s Summer Leadership Policy Conference. This year’s event was different from the others.
In past conferences, CYC would create four different tracks that youth could sign up for prior to arriving at the conference. These tracks included topics like adoption, foster parent accountability, mental health services and educational opportunities, and each track had two trained youth facilitators. Multiple workshops taught youth how to strategically implement their stories when lobbying legislators and how to show up with confidence when meeting someone new, all the while gaining an in-depth understanding of the legislative process.
This has worked tremendously over the years, as a new youth coming into a conference for the first time are more likely to feel comfortable around a fellow youth, rather than an adult who they may be unfamiliar with. CYC knows how to have fun, too, from water sports and DJed pool parties to giant plastic balls to roll around in.
This year, CYC implemented a new approach known as open-space technology. Rather than a pre-planned schedule that might limit opportunities for dialogue, attendees simply talked. No strict schedule, no pre-planned topics – merely conversations from one foster to another. This approach worked wonders, as this year’s conference was mainly composed of new members. Fostering such a relaxed environment allowed for raw emotion and straight talk. From around 9:00 a.m. through the evening, members talked about everything from resilience and mental health to adoption and foster youth rights.
One new addition to the summer conference was CYC Talks, which allowed youth to submit their art, spoken word or monologues about whatever topic they chose. Youth then shared stories of their trials and tribulations whilst maneuvering their way through California’s foster care system. Spoken word is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling, as it allows the speaker to convey deep emotion through eloquently strung together words and phrases.
Watch a recording of the performances here.
In years past, the summer conference ended with four policy recommendations to be voted on by peers and taken to the state capitol, but this year’s policy focus has yet to be chosen. With the powerful new approach of open-space technology, all combined data and conversation will coagulate into one impactful piece of legislation from CYC’s policy team. Stay up to date with which recommendation CYC brings to Sacramento in January by checking out its Facebook, Instagram and website.
CYC member Jeremiah McWright is an intern with California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth. He is the program instructor for Red Dragon Shou Shu in Pacific Beach and aspires to be a politician.