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Young Vermonters gather to draft a youth declaration of rights

Posted on December 8th, 2017 in: Blog

Young Vermonters ages 9-22 gathered recently to draft a Youth Declaration of Rights and express what they feel are salient needs for young people across the state.

The 38 youth spent the day at the Chandler Music Hall on October 20, 2017 meeting new people from around the state, learning about what a right is, and engaging in discussions together. Pulling together different ideas from diverse ages, the youth came up with major categories of rights including Mental Health, Natural Environment, Social Supports and Connections, Justice and Equality, Hobbies/Entertainment, Education, Work/Transportation, Physical Health, Home/Shelter.

According to Sabrina, a student at Northfield High School, the highlight of the day was “meeting everyone and hearing everyone’s opinions and ideas.” Sabrina saw the day as a step in the right direction and reflected, “I hope that what we did today has a long term purpose.”

Organized by Vermont Afterschool, the Youth Declaration of Rights was envisioned as an opportunity for young people to express their ideas, as well as a way to help broaden the conversation around policy decisions that affect youth. In crafting the specific rights under each category, youth spoke passionately about safety, privacy, identity, and youth voice in state decisions.

They also emphasized the right to connect to each other through technology and transportation, opportunities for artistic expression, and access to outdoor recreational and natural spaces. They wrote that they have a right to know about the environment and what is being done to it. They named safe and affordable health care as a right and specifically called out having people in society who support their mental well-being.

“As we approach challenges in our state, whether it be the academic achievement gap or the opioid crisis, we need to think more holistically about how we support our young people,” stated Vermont Afterschool Executive Director Holly Morehouse. “This was a chance for us to listen to youth in their own words and it was incredibly exciting to see them engage in deep conversations about what they feel they truly need to support their well-being and future success. It is our hope that this Youth Declaration of Rights is just the start of deeper, broader conversations in our state.”

Sarah Kleinman, who is also the Director of UVM 4-H Youth Programs, was one of several facilitators who led groups throughout exercises and activities to help youth speak up and determine which rights were most important to them. “This experience gives me hope and optimism for the future,” stated Kleinman. “It’s clear that Vermont has caring and contributing young people in our midst!”

Holly Morehouse presented the Youth Declaration of Rights at the Vermont Child Poverty Council on November 16, 2017, and partner organizations that work with youth within the 9-26 age range gathered for for a forum on Youth Work and Policy in Vermont on December 5, 2017.

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