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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Touching base with ODJFS Director Hall

Yesterday's meeting via phone with ODJFS Director Hall and Office of Children Services Transformation Director Kristi Burre was a great opportunity to discuss how we can all continue to support Jada Williams and AgedOutt's work with Suits for Success and Jaye Turner's faith-based El'lesun efforts

We shared/reiterated five Strategic Focus Areas for 2020:*As identified by Ohio foster care youth and alumni

1. The creation of a Statewide Foster Youth Ombudsman’s Office; which is especially important during the current “Stay at Home” order because the risk for abuse is greater

2. Normalcy and Safety Issues to be addressed, especially in group homes and residential placements

3. Mandatory Training Tracks for foster parents and caseworkers who serve teens, with curriculum designed by ACTION Ohio incorporating foster care youth, alumni and ally insights

4. Federal Advocacy to increase the pool of resources available to support Older Foster Youth in their transition to adulthood, especially in the midst of this international pandemic

5. Seeking to identify existing resourcescreate new onesdevelop partnerships and maximize use of and access to state and national resources, such as extending Chafee until age 23 in the state of Ohio.  

The most important topics that we touched on during yesterday's call were:

1. That April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and that we would love to circle back with Kristi Burre next week regarding progress on the Ombudsman's Office. We know that children are at greater risk of abuse during this stay-at-home order, whether it's from their biological families or in an unsafe foster, group home or residential placement.

2. That Ohio has the option through the Family First Act to extend Chafee to age 23, and to expedite making this happen. The deadline might not be until October, but several 
other states have moved forward to extend Chafee to 23 already.

3. Likewise Ohio would also be well-advised to follow the example of Illinois and Ontario by not "aging youth" during this time. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have agreed to continue protecting soon-to-be 18- and 21-year-olds who are set to age out of the state’s foster care system during the coronavirus pandemic. Ontario has made similar provisions.

There is a way we do business when an international pandemic isn't going on, but when one is happening, we need to expedite that process. If there were ever a time to bypass additional meetings and focus groups, that time is now.

In the midst of COVID-19, foster care youth and alumni are being disconnected from work, school, and external support systems. They are at risk of losing housing, human trafficking, and even their lives. They can't wait until October. The time to act is now.

The Office of Child Welfare Transformation Director and her team made the commitment to connect with us within the next week regarding expediting the process.

Zooming in with HUD and federal legislators

Many thanks to HUD Regional Administrator Chris Patterson, who serves as National Lead for the FYI Foster Youth to Independence Initiative. Christopher initiated a Zoom call last week to bring together foster care youth, alumni and allies to discuss this initiative created by/for former foster youth, under Secretary Ben Carson’s leadership.

Participants included current/former foster youth from Arizona, California, Florida, Missouri, New York and Ohio. Staffers from federal legislative offices were on the call as well.

ACTION Ohio remains dedicated to support this work moving forward - we would like to see FYI vouchers available in every eligible state and county in our nation. We deeply appreciate the HUD team, including the ever-amazing Danielle Bastarache. We also can't say enough about how much we appreciate Ruth Ann White of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Wishing that every state would extend foster care supports to age 21

In the words of Jamole Callahan of ACTION Ohio: 
  • "This was a hard fought journey for advocates here in Ohio. Nationwide, at this moment, this offers a mechanism to serve and support young adults in their most crucial times. It’s time for EVERY state in the nation to extend supports to young adults transitioning out of care until 21."

Friday, March 20, 2020

Appreciation for Heather Zenone

We Ohio folks had the honor and privilege of meeting with foster care alumna Heather Zenone in February. Heather is a powerful DC advocate with an eye toward improving outcomes for our population, especially in light of the current pandemic. She has been sharing our policy recommendations with the federal Ways and Means committee.

Excellent recommendation from CDF

ACTION Ohio loves this recent recommendation from Children's Defense Fund national and the Child Welfare and Mental Health Coalition:

  • "Boost Title IV-E Chafee funds to $500 million. These additional funds could be used above and beyond what states have already locked into place for their ongoing independent living funds and services. Allow states flexibility in expanding Chafee funds for services and supports for youth including financial assistance, and employment assistance."

National strategy proposals to strengthen the child welfare safety net in response to COVID-19

Policy recommendations are being discussed behind the scenes to support young people in and from foster care, by advocates throughout the nation (including Youth Villages and Children’s Defense Fund). Some of my current favorites are listed below.

 They include recommendations that we have made. We are continuing to work on strategy proposals, in partnership with the ever-amazing Ruth Anne White of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. 

- Waiving the 30% Chafee housing cap
- Waiving the work and education requirements for Chafee
- Doubling Chafee funds
 - Having every state extend Chafee services until age 23

Title IV-E -Waiving the Title IV-E work and education requirement for older youth in extended care beyond age 18, and the work and education requirements for Chafee
- Having every state extend foster care to age 21

Congregate Care: 
 - “Addressing concerns around congregate care by promoting reductions of unnecessary group care placements to reduce viral transmission, providing access to sanitation services, supporting access to educational resources on appropriate social distancing measures, and providing access to technology and supports for virtual learning” (from the Child Welfare and Mental Health Coalition) 

ACTION Ohio remains concerned about lack of cell phone access for foster care youth, especially those who are in group home/residential placements, and how this might be further isolating them at this time.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Appreciation for Chancellor Randy Gardner

ACTION Ohio is deeply grateful for Chancellor Randy Gardner of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

He and his staff have reached out to Ohio colleges and universities to remind them about vulnerable populations on their campuses for whom the dorm might be their only home (including former foster youth).

He personally took the time yesterday to circle back with key decision makers on campus to encourage them that their messaging about dorms shutting down should also include supportive messaging for young people for whom their dorm on campus is their only home.

So far, the list of Ohio colleges are closing their dorms includes:

- Antioch College
- Cedarville University
- Central State University
- Denison University
- Hiram College
- Hocking College
- Kenyon College
- Lake Erie College
- Marietta College
- Muskingum University
- Oberlin College
- The Ohio State University
- Ohio University
- Ohio Wesleyan University
- Ursuline College
- Xavier University
- Wilmington College
- Youngstown State University