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Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 Statewide Advocacy by Ohio foster care youth and alumni


 

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. The OHIO YAB exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out of home care.

Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth. We seek first to listen to, support, and follow up on the insights expressed by today’s foster care youth and young adults, related to barriers that negatively impact their immediate/long-term outcomes.

In 2020, we communicated regularly with Governor DeWine’s Office and his staff, and presented in-person and virtual testimony to the Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council. Our recommendations were also captured in our Letter to the Editor of the Columbus Dispatch. We participated in Governor DeWine’s press conference to announce the Council’s final report and recommendations.

We have the utmost respect for Governor DeWine. He responded to our first and second letters proposing protections for foster youth by issuing and extending a temporary moratorium on aging out of foster care and Bridges. Foster youth throughout Ohio participated in creating a photo message of thanks.

On the date of the House Bill 8 signing, we sent a third letter to Governor DeWine to recommend that the next step forward after reducing foster parent training hours is to Make Every Training Count through specialized training tracks — especially for foster parents caring for teens. This request is directly related to our Don’t Forget to Foster Our Future Campaign.

As we continue to focus on improving outcomes after foster care, we deeply value our ongoing communication with Chancellor Randy Gardner and his staff members at the Ohio Department of Higher Education. We also continue to monitor access to Medicaid for former foster youth, and how things are moving forward now that the Mandated Reporter Bill has become state law.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Summary of Provisions Impacting Transition Age Youth in the Recently Passed Federal Stimulus and Funding Package

The Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) includes the following: 

1.) Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (permanent)

  • Makes the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) program permanent in statute.
  • Extends the three-year FYI voucher term by 2 additional years for individuals participating in the Family Self- Sufficiency Program (FSS) or similar self-sufficiency activities.
  • Provides $25 million for the Family Unification Program (FUP). $20 million of these funds are for on-demand housing vouchers for young people with a foster care history.

2.) #UpChafee (effective through FY 2021)

  • Increases in Chafee funds by 400 million.
  • No state match is required for this increased Chafee allocation.
  • Youth are Chafee eligible until reaching age 27.
  • States can lift the 30% cap on room and board and provide room and board to young people who are between ages 18 years and 27 and have experienced foster care at 14 years of age or older.

3.) Education and Training Vouchers (effective through FY 2021)

  • At least 50 million of the 400 million Chafee allocation must be used for ETV.
  • The maximum ETV award is $12,000 per individual youth per year (from $5000) through FY 2022.
  • Waiver of the enrollment and satisfactory academic progress requirements (SAP) for ETV through FY 2021 if young people are unable to meet the requirement due to the pandemic.

4.) Preventing Youth from Aging out and Providing Re-Entry  (effective through FY 2021)

  • A state cannot require a child to leave foster care due to turning 18/21.
  • Young people can remain IV-E eligible even if they are not able to meet the participation (work and school) requirements for extended foster care and if they are age 21.
  • States are required to (“shall”) provide re-entry to foster care to youth who aged out during the pandemic and have not attained age 22 and must facilitate the re-entry process.

5.) Provisions to Notify Young People and Streamline Access to Assistance

  • States must notify young people about expanded Chafee eligibility and services, the moratorium, and the re-entry provisions.
  • The law prohibits HHS from requiring states to provide “proof of a direct connection to the pandemic if doing so would be administratively burdensome or would otherwise delay or impede the ability of the State to serve foster youth.”


Also included: 

6.) Relief for Higher Education Institutions and Students (effective through FY 2022)

  • $22.7 billion allocated to a Higher Education Relief Fund for colleges and universities. At least half of this amount must go directly to students in the form of additional financial aid.
  • Increases the maximum Pell grant award by $150, from $6,345 to $6,495 for the 2021-2022 academic year.


7.) Streamlining the FAFSA for Youth with Experience in Foster Care and Homelessness (these provisions take effect on July 1, 2023)

  • Eliminates the requirement that the status of foster youth and unaccompanied homeless youths be redetermined every year.
  • Expands the list of officials and programs that may verify that an applicant is an unaccompanied homeless youth.
  • To verify a youth’s foster care status, institutions must accept official state documents, an electronic data match with the state agency, a documented phone call with a county agency, foster care provider, attorney or CASA, or verification that the student is eligible for a Chafee ETV grant.
  • Requires the development of a simplified FAFSA with a single question on homeless status (this part, we are curious about, because there are pro's and con's to it)


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

FSHO Senate Push

Throughout the month of December 2020, foster care youth, alumni and allies throughout the nation are invited to call their United States Senate representatives and ask them to champion the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2019 (S. 2803).  

Since 2013, Ohio foster care youth and alumni have traveled to DC each year, in partnership with Ruth Anne White and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare to work with federal officials and HUD to design a way to weave together existing federal resources in order to eliminate the gaps through which foster youth fall into homelessness.

Ohio foster care youth literally wrote the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2019. This week, the partner bill (Senate Bill 2803) is being reviewed by the United States Senate. 

Here’s a link to an online toolkit that includes talking points, a sample letter, and other information that might be helpful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Messages of thanks from Lorain County FYI receipients

  





Virtual Meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson


On Monday, November 30, 2020, some of the architects of the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative from ACTION Ohio, and young people who are currently participating in the program from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio and Oklahoma, met with HUD Secretary Ben Carson for a conversation about the incredible impact of this program!

In the words of Ruth Ann White of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare:
  • HUD FYI Lead Chris Patterson was there to support his brothers and sisters of the foster care system. 
  • Jamole Callahan facilitated the event, birthday girl, Doris Edelmann held down the fort, and Lisa Dickson, who was hard at work was missed, but she trained us well! 
  • A huge thank you to Adaora Onuora, April Mcmullen, Love Williams, Eshawn Peterson, Tony Parsons, Tatyana Rozhnova, Violet Ramunni, Allison Rettker Pearce, Betsy Dodd Farmer, and CloĆ© Cooper. 
  • The Lorain County Team of youth was amazing and very articulate.
  • It was wonderful to have author and advocate Alexis Black there to support the event as well!  
Love Williams, FYI Recipient from Alabama


Monday, November 23, 2020

2020 Thanksgiving Together ~ What No One Ever Told Me About the Workplace


Workplace Tips were shared on Sunday, Nov. 22, at 1 pm: Amber Dudsak did an excellent job of facilitating the conversation. Cloe Cooper of FAN and Jaye Turner of El’lesun shared about Project PASSION. 

Here are links to Workplace Tips that were shared, Living Wage per Ohio County and how current/former Ohio foster youth can apply for workforce attire through Project PASSION.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Notes from Governor DeWine's press conference on November 20th

 


On Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, Governor DeWine held a press conference to announce the final release of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council's final report and recommendations to reform Ohio's children services and foster care system.

Governor DeWine's heart for foster youth was reflected in his opening remarks, during which he reiterated the need to focus on children and their best interest. He spoke about about giving foster youth a shot at living the American dream, and said, "Foster youth's health and safety needs to remain the North Star... The children/teen's rights need to come first."

The second speaker was Office of Children Services Transformation Director Kristi Burre. She spoke about trying to improve the lives of families and children throughout Ohio, and trying to include the voices of all Ohioans, across the entire continuum of the system. Her focus was broad, but she did include the quote that, "Foster youth have a right to be at the table."

Some of the highlights she mentioned were consistent screening of child abuse and neglect reports, the establishment of a statewide Ombudsman's Office, the need for normalcy, and the creation of a Bill of Rights for foster youth and for foster caregivers. 

She also spoke about Adoption Best Practices, such as Wendy's Wonderful Kids and Permanency Roundtables, and juvenile justice collaboration -- which will include establishing some Best Practices regarding GALs.

The third speaker was Melinda Sykes Haggerty. As an adoptee and former foster youth, Melinda shared that she feels this is her life mission. She thanked Governor DeWine for his unwavering dedication to improving outcomes for foster youth throughout his career. 

Melinda reflected on her experience on the Advisory Council, and shared that it was a balance of complicated family dynamics and interests. She spoke about the listening tour, and the honor and necessity of listening to and responding to those who have lived experience. 

She said that, out of all of the recommendations, she is the most proud of: 

  1. The future establishment of a Statewide Ombudsman's Office, especially with Ohio being a county-run system 
  2. Efforts to improve normalcy 
  3. Efforts to promote permanency, especially for older youth, in order to support a successful transition into young adulthood

Final remarks were made by ODJFS Director Kim Hall. Her closing words included the desire for a continued collaboration with foster care youth and alumni. 

After that, they opened it up for questions from reporters. The first reporter asked about child fatalities, and referred to a specific case of child abuse in Dayton. 

Governor DeWine responded that, "We have to do better for these kids. The child's rights need to come first. These are tough decisions, but we need to focus on children."


Reflections, when it comes to the OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio:

  • The beauty and clarity of our work as foster care youth and alumni in the state of Ohio is that we can hone in on what can best improve outcomes for the young people themselves.

  • And have the ongoing responsibility to do so. 

  • Let’s make sure that the health and safety of Ohio foster care youth and young adults remains the North Star.