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Monday, August 3, 2020

State and National Advocacy for a Foster Care Ombudsman Office

Here in Ohio, we are advocating for the creation of a statewide Foster Care Ombudsman's Office on both a state and national level.

When it comes to the most effective, efficient and speedy way to move forward to create this Office, the road to passing statewide legislation here in Ohio might be shorter, simpler and less complicated. This also be a first step in figuring out a national solution. But, we are going to go ahead and pursue both opportunities at the same time.

We have learned the hard way in our state that, even with the best of intentions, after being urged to create, operate and publicize a Foster Youth Ombudsman's Office, their first response might be to try to put it "under" child welfare and/or to replicate models (such as the one for aging adults) that they already know.

And, in a way that makes sense, because the way that each of us makes sense of the world is to try to put new information into existing categories. However, these two things matter most when it comes to moving forward, and we definitely aren't willing to compromise on them.


 1.) The need to house this office outside of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services:

Our young people have requested that this future office be:
  • Housed under an independent and autonomous agency with oversight specific to child welfare, and not part of the state's division of child and family services.
  • It is vitally important that the Ombudsman's Office have regulatory power, in order for youth concerns to be independently investigated. 
  • Here in Ohio, our young people have suggested that this office be housed under the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. This would allow this office to be staffed by paid lawyers, as they investigate the safety of young people as potential "victims of crime."

Why independent investigation of youth concerns matters:
  • The very reason this "Ask" came up in the first place is because Ohio foster care youth shared concerns about:
    • Being placed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and their basic needs were not met in certain placements. Regarding residential facilities and group homes, this was often accompanied by the repeated phrase: "Need more cameras," and this direct quote from a young person that: "The danger of some group homes and residential placements is that things happen behind walls, and other people don’t know what’s really going on."
    • Trying unsuccessfully to reach out for help, including being unable to reach their caseworker and/or GAL and/or trying to call their local agency hotline and experiencing long wait times, lack of follow-through on reports made directly by youth, and staff answering the phone who are not youth-friendly.
  • In California, one of the learning curves and hard-earned lessons that they have learned in the process of creating and maintaining a Foster Care Ombudsman's Office is the need for this office to have more authority and more independence.
  • To quote from one of our young people: "I have great concerns about the Foster Care Ombudsman being under the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. If the Ombudsman were being paid by the same organization that funds, the Foster Care System it would be impossible for the Ombudsman to be impartial. Therefore, as former foster youth we had hoped that the Ombudsman would under the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

2.) The need for this office to specifically serve youth and young adults:
  • The population served would be youth experiencing abuse in foster, adoptive, kinship, respite, residential and group home placements.
  • Ohio foster care youth and alumni repeatedly requested that this office needs to be separate from whatever mechanism is established to support foster caregivers, in order to avoid a conflict of interest. For example: A youth reports abuse; their foster parent wants to protect themselves from the allegation.
  • Likewise, the model for service delivery should be based on a Youth-Centered Framework, rather than mirroring the existing ombudsman for aging adults, which was one suggestion that had come up on our state that the youth vetoed.
  • With services to include toll-free statewide hotline that young people can contact directly with concerns about their current placement and their rights and well-being, to be resolved within a speedy timeframe.

Why focusing on young people and a youth-centered approach matters:

  • The very reason this "Ask" came up in the first place is because Ohio foster care youth shared concerns about:
    • Not feeling seen or heard, or even listened to when they tried to express concerns: “If a caseworker would open a case against my biological parents for this allegation, then if it happens in a guardian, kinship, respite, foster, adoptive, group home, residential placement, it should also be thoroughly investigated.”
  • Additional quotes from current/former foster youth during statewide Foster Care Forums:
    • It has come to our attention that Ohio foster parents are requesting that the needed Ombudsman be available to them too. While I care what foster care and kinship care parents go through, this would be counter-productive and a conflict of interest.
    • I think that it is important that youth have their own Ombudsman office separate from one that cares for foster parents because the two needs will likely come into conflict and potentially make youth reports futile.
    • The struggles that foster adoptive, respite and primary families face are important, and we care about and recognize the need for better accountability and communication between foster parents and their agencies. However, this needs to be addressed by a different mechanism, such as a separate office or a statewide grievance procedure.
    • Because it doesn’t make sense for a future Ombudsman’s Office to both defend allegations against foster parents and safeguard young people from further abuse. The office can’t do both of those things at the same time. Those two tasks will inevitably come into conflict with each other.

Monday, July 27, 2020

FYI: An example of legwork leading to success


On Friday, July 24, 2020, former foster youth and allies came together for a Virtual Celebration of the One-Year Anniversary of the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative.

Former foster youth from Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia each shared their goals for the future and how this resource has helped them personally to move forward to build their futures.

With help from FYI, a 22-year old young man named Love from Alabama is working to attain a business degree and hopes to one day start a business of his own. Love lives out the very meaning of his name by caring for others. His main goal and priority is to help the youth in his community and he is also working to become a professional speaker. His FYI voucher is helping him to focus on those goals for the next 36 months while being housing secure.

Amanda Metivier Hernandez of Facing Foster Care in Alaska is an alumna of foster care herself. She shared how meaningful it was for her to witness the advocacy for this through social media, and then to receive a call saying that 25 former foster youth in her area could get housing support. In her words, “This has been the greatest thing to happen to us in Alaska. We definitely feel the impact... I just want to say thank you to everyone, but especially the alumni who have gone to DC, shared their experiences and made this happen.”

What gave Amanda the most joy was to be on the ground to witness young people actually moving directly from foster care to vouchers, and also from homelessness to housing stability. One of these young people was Rae Lynn, who shared that FYI vouchers have helped her to build stability. Life before, during and after foster care can be chaotic, and Rae Lynn’s voucher has made it possible for her to live on her own and maintain housing without disruption.

In Colorado, young people came together with their adult supporters to have a viewing party for this virtual celebration. Participants shared that FYI have been an amazing resource that has made so many things possible in their lives. This included being able to focus on their college journey, attend college full-time and dedicate time to grades in order to work towards their future careers.

In Florida, Pam Bress, the founder of Ready for Life Brevard, shared her gratitude for the Fostering Youth to Independence initiative, “It is the absolute game-changer for us in Florida and Brevard County. Props to everybody for doing what needs to be done for the youth aging out of foster care. After ten years of being an attorney, representing youth in transition and seeing the need, this was the reason why I left Legal Aid and started Ready for Life Brevard.”

So far, Florida has been able to house twelve young people, and three of them shared their gratitude and experiences on Friday. Lajoya said that FYI has been a blessing in her life, and has helped her in so many ways. She had previously spent a year paying rent to sleep on someone’s couch, “not having a place to just settle down and grow and be a woman and bloom.” 

Destiny shared what it was like to transition from foster care at age 18, and to feel pressured to financially support her biological mother. FYI gave Destiny a chance to focus on building a future for herself -- it allowed her to focus on her own destiny. She is now living in her first apartment. Waking up in her own place makes her grateful every day, and she is eager to help others and to be a spokeswoman for FYI in the future.

Desiree participated in the call from work, while wearing a mask that said “No Legwork, No Success.”  Desiree exemplified that message by working during the call, with her manager’s permission. In the midst of her efforts, Desiree always took time to cheer on the goals and accomplishments of other youth.

Desiree shared what she desires for her future, “My goals are to eventually own my own house, and to create multiple sources of income for myself. To make sure to prepare; to put myself in a situation where I never need to worry about where I’m going to sleep. I’ve kind of dealt with that my whole life.

Desiree wrote a personal thank you to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his staff (including Chris Patterson, Danielle Bastarache and so many others) and to everyone who made this possible for her and others to have this opportunity:

“Thanks for making this opportunity possible for people who don’t have much opportunity. People who don’t feel seen in the world. I can only speak for myself so thank you for making me feel seen and heard in a world that makes me feel less than. 

“Thank you for empathizing and for reaching for more - to give other people a chance to reach for more. A lot of people grow up like us, in situations that makes them cold, but instead their hearts grew fonder for the idea of everyone getting a chance to excel.  So for that, I thank you. (FYI) teaches me not to give up on myself... Resilience has been my biggest strength, and now I live in gratitude.” 

Isabella from Ohio also wrote up her goals ahead of time. She wants to become a therapist, a future homeowner and to become a wife and a mother. She plans to pursue a PhD, while also exploring her creative talents as a singer, songwriter and future author.

FYI is making it possible for Isabella to build a savings account. She deeply appreciates the economic stability that FYI makes possible. Isabella also wanted to share how FYI has the potential to help former foster youth throughout the country avoid unnecessary debt. She expressed heartfelt appreciation for the independent living preparation that she had received.

Likewise, Shadjah from Virginia expressed her gratitude that FYI has helped her with stability and saving money. Her caseworker Vickie shared that this incredible resource is helping young people focus on work, education and building positive relationships and community networks.

It isn’t easy to be the parent you never had. Lindsey from Iowa aged out when she turned 18. She is a proud mother who plans to enter police academy in January 2021. FYI is making it possible for her to provide for her children, and focus on buying diapers, wipes and other necessities.

Holly of Oklahoma aged out of foster care at 18 years old, and experienced homelessness. “Now that I have a place to sleep at night, it’s very very helpful.” FYI is providing a platform for Holly to create a stable home for her children, maintain employment and seek to attain her GED and pursue college. Trying to juggle all of those goals without having a place to sleep at night was incredibly difficult. 

There is no blueprint for building a family after foster care, and FYI is helping many young people successfully navigate this unfamiliar territory. More than one participant shared that having this housing resource makes it possible for them to provide for and maintain custody of their children.

Dakota from Oregon had experienced three years of homelessness after aging out of of foster care. This is lost time that could have been avoided if he had been able to receive a housing voucher when he first left care. He is incredibly grateful that this resource exists now -- it is making it possible for him maintain full-time employment. In his words, “What does this resource mean to me?  It means stability and a brighter future.”  

Joelle, also from Oregon, shared how much it meant to no longer have to live out of a short-stay hotel. The sense of permanency that she is experiencing by not having to live in such impermanent status is helping her to create the foundation of stability that she has always craved.

Every young person on the call was clearly dedicated to maximizing this opportunity by making the very most out of it, and then paying it forward to help others. 

Other amazing speakers during the call included  Chris Patterson and Ryan Jones from HUD, HHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, Jamole Callahan from ACTION Ohio, Ruth Anne White from the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, and foster care alumna Christina Meredith who is heading up efforts to move FYI forward in Texas.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson celebrates the one-year anniversary of FYI

If Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies had never traveled to DC from 2013-2019, these vouchers wouldn’t exist - and that is truly humbling.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

2020 FYI Virtual Celebration

Click to enlarge


#FosterYouthtoIndependenceMonth
#FYIworks

Young people throughout the nation who are participating in the Foster Youth to Independence initiative expressed their thanks to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his staff on Friday, July 24, 2020.

Former foster youth from Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia shared their goals for the future and how this resource has helped them personally to move forward to build their futures.

Additional speakers included HUD FYI Lead Chris Patterson, HHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson and foster care alumna Christina Meredith who is heading up efforts to move FYI forward in Texas.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act

On Thursday, July 2, 2020, United States Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act, comprehensive legislation to provide flexible, emergency aid for key child welfare programs working to support young people and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Older Youth Provisions in this Act include:

  • Providing $500 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure young people have access to supports, such as housing, food, and cash assistance, and allow more of these funds to cover housing costs for foster youth. Funds could also be used for education and training vouchers, which help young people cover the cost of education.
  • Removing the 30% cap on utilizing Chafee funding for housing for foster care youth and young adults.
  • Establishing a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.

“Sen. Brown’s efforts to seek out and understand the experience of current and former foster youth like myself, throughout the state of Ohio in the face of this pandemic is evident throughout the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act,” said Cloé Cooper of ACTION Ohio.  “More often than not, we have nobody in our corner – and during the economic and health crisis this can prove deadly. I am proud to be an Ohioan where people like Senator Brown and his team are champions for young people like myself and include our voices in their policy-making.”

Senator Sherrod Brown previously urged the Trump Administration in March to issue national guidance for child welfare agencies who must still work to protect and support children during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a letter sent to Vice President Mike Pence and Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner Elizabeth Darling, Brown urged the Administration to issue comprehensive guidance to states and tribes to ensure youth have access to the full range of support services required to meet their educational, health, and housing needs, regardless of where they live.






Sunday, June 21, 2020

Cloe Cooper shares about FYI on CDF-Ohio webinar



Cloe Cooper did an amazing job of explaining how FYI works during a webinar for the Ohio Children's Defense Fund.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Ohio foster care youth and alumni featured as Humans of HUD

Ohio foster care youth and alumni are honored to be featured as Humans of HUD:
Each of the individuals listed below is one of 60 former foster youth representing ACTION Ohio, who traveled to DC between 2013 and 2019 to partner with the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW) in pursuing national solutions for young people aging out of the foster care system and at risk of homelessness. In March 2019, ACTION Ohio and NCHCW met directly with Secretary Carson to present a proposal to house former foster youth. Within four months of their meeting, Secretary Carson launched the Foster to Youth Independence initiative, providing housing vouchers to public housing authorities to prevent and end homelessness among young adults who recently left the foster care system without a home. Since July 2019, HUD has awarded $5.4 million and 654 vouchers nationwide to assist young adults.

[Natasha from Ohio]
Natasha
Ohio
"When I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary Carson, I wanted to help lay a foundation to improve housing outcomes for my brothers and sisters. I wanted to help map out housing solutions for young people aging out of foster care. My biggest fear growing up was becoming homeless. Knowing I would have an opportunity to advocate for individuals that were just like me, made this my lifelong mission. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - be your own best advocate. Only you can make the choice to know your value, share your voice, be a voice for yourself and then become a voice for others."

[Michael from Ohio]
Michael 
Ohio

"I had traveled with ACTION Ohio several times over the years to propose housing solutions with my fellow brothers and sisters. The meeting with Secretary Ben Carson made me feel like our solutions for the first time were being recognized and that validated our efforts. As someone who has struggled with housing insecurity, it makes me hopeful to see housing authorities across America working with child welfare agencies creating FYI [Foster Youth to Independence] programs to serve other foster youth. I know housing resources are scarce and what makes me most proud about FYI is that it does not disenfranchise other vulnerable populations. No one gets bumped down on the waitlist for housing because of our efforts. I felt inspired to become involved because of the support and encouragement I experience from my chosen family. If not for the support of my chosen family and countless people along the way, I would never have made it. I wanted to continue to pay it forward to others so that they do not have to struggle in the same ways I did. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - surround yourselves with people who believe in your greatness. No one succeeds alone, it takes a village to become stable. Find folks who encourage you to pursue your goals and can be there to help you when you need it."
[Kimberly from Ohio]
Kimberly
Ohio
"My time in DC meeting with Secretary Carson meant so much to me because we were doing more than just calling for change. We were helping to design a way to make that happen. As a former foster youth who has experienced homelessness at various stages in my life, this issue is incredibly personal for me. I'm deeply proud of the countless number of foster youths, who have demonstrated tremendous courage by using their voices to be the driving force that brought about this program. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system - you aren't defined by your past experiences. You are worthy of love, respect, and taking up space on this earth."
[Marcus from Ohio]
Marcus
Ohio
"When I traveled to Washington, DC to discuss and propose housing solutions with Secretary Carson and legislators, it was one of the most meaningful things that I had ever done. It was an amazing opportunity to speak directly with the decision makers and create thoughtful change that would positively affect foster youth. I was inspired to help after visiting a statewide meeting. It was my first exposure to a platform that truly gave me a step to stand on and a microphone for my voice to be heard. Being a teenager in foster care your life is dictated by policy. These organizations [ACTION Ohio] gave me the opportunity to address flawed policies on a local and statewide level. This is where I was able to begin advocating for housing solutions and many other issues that foster youth experience during foster care and after emancipation. My advice for someone leaving foster care is - to be bold in everything you do. Be the best version of yourself and never accept the unacceptable."
[Lisa from Ohio]
Lisa
Ohio
"When I aged out of foster care in 1989, there was no plan for my future. I started college at age 16 and was homeless within a year. At age 18, I moved into a dorm, and having housing helped me move forward and earn a Master's degree. Upon hearing from foster youth that this struggle was still happening, I wanted to empower them to share their insights to make a change. I am honored to have played a role in mobilizing my brothers and sisters of the system, and deeply proud of each of them. I am grateful with all my heart that HUD listens to those with lived experience, and in awe of how quickly Secretary Ben Carson moved forward to make FYI [Foster Youth to Independence] vouchers a national reality. What inspires me most about our group is the focus on coming up with proactive solutions. Statistics tell a story, and we can improve outcomes by addressing the factors that perpetuate them. Each of my brothers and sisters of the foster care system throughout the country have the ability to generate positive change. My advice to youth leaving the foster care system is to seek out trustworthy people and let them know when you need help. There are amazing allies out there and partnering with them can only improve our effectiveness."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

2020 HUD Region 5 Roundtable, and Plans for Moving FYI Forward

 

Link to video that shares HUD's plans for moving FYI forward.

ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare were honored to work with Rosa Ailabouni, Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator, HUD Region V to help plan a virtual roundtable on May 28, 2020.

Youth Speaker Bios:
  • Former foster youth Ciara Richey received an FUP voucher at age 21, which made it possible for her to continue to pursue higher education. She is currently working two jobs and attending Ohio University Zanesville. She is close to receiving a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, after which she plans to enter the Columbus Police Academy in order to become a private detective.
  • Former foster youth Desaray Lavery works full-time at Arby's. She will be using an FYI voucher to move into her new apartment next month. The new apartment is close to her job, and will allow her to have a dog and work as a groomer.

Additional Speakers During the Roundtable:
  • Joseph Galvan, Regional Administrator, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, Region V
  • Elizabeth Darling, Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Kara Wente, Assistant Director of Health and Human Services at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services 
  • Chris Patterson, Regional Administrator, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, Region IX
  • Joaquin Cintron Vega, President and CEO, Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority
  • Sonja Nelson, Assistant Vice President of Resident Initiatives, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
  • Cassie Snyder, Associate Director of Youth Transition Services, Franklin County Children Services
  • Brianna Moore, Social Service Worker, Portage County Job and Family Services
  • Travena Kaminski, Section 8 Assistant Manager, Portage County Housing Authority
  •  

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Appreciation for Chancellor Gardner



Grateful today for Chancellor Randy Gardner and his staff. They have had ongoing conversations with us, and have proactively reached out to Ohio higher education institutions to encourage them to make it possible for former foster youth to stay on campus.

We are thankful that the Ohio Department of Higher Education recognizes that, for many former foster youth, their college dorm is their only home, and their campus network is their only support system.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

CMHA - Housing After Foster Care

ACTION Ohio was honored to work with CMHA on this video project. Kudos to Cloe Cooper for the wonderful job she did in narrating the video, and promoting the opportunity for CSCC college students with a foster care history to share their photos and insights.

 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

2020 CDF Ohio Webinar: Cultivating Opportunities for Youth




Cloe Cooper, Joshua Hatch, Talia Holmes, Michael Outrich and Destiny Higgins did a wonderful job during yesterday's webinar.

Here's a link to watch the video.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

For those who know and love Amy Roberts

We learned yesterday that she is in hospice now, and are seeking to figure out a way to coordinate checking in with her to share our love within the next week.



Tuesday, April 28, 2020

'A sigh of relief:' Advocates applaud Ohio's governor for providing safety net for those aging out of foster care


Youth advocates are breathing a sigh of relief after Ohio's governor announced the state will cover the costs of those aging out of the foster care system.

Governor DeWine thanked OHIO Youth Advisory Board for coming up with this plan.

On April 25, 2020, 10TV news interviewed Talia Holmes, president of the FCCS Youth Advisory Board. She knows firsthand what it's like to be in foster care.

"You're always having to worry about making sure you're presenting yourself in the best way, so the person you're with wants to keep you," Holmes said. "[You want to make sure] you're not put into another situation that may not be as good as the one you may be leaving from."

Holmes said this is a step to ensure Ohio's most vulnerable are set up for success. "It's providing them that extra leverage to be able to make steps securely so that they are able to be successful in society," she said.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Thank you, Governor DeWine



Quotes from Governor DeWine's Press Conference on April 24, 2020:
 Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will continue to cover the costs for youth in foster care who are turning 18 during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to DeWine, more than 200 people will “age out” of Ohio’s foster care system in the next three months.

“For many of these young people, their future looks uncertain because of COVID-19, whether their plan was to start a career or pursue higher education. This program will provide them with a safety net during these difficult times,” DeWine said.

This option is also available for those in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Bridges program, which is foster care to age 21. DeWine said those in Bridges can stay in the program to help them maintain their housing, jobs, and education.

“These changes will ensure that no child leaves care during this pandemic without a safe place to call home. I encourage county children services agencies, juvenile courts, and the foster youth themselves to take advantage of this new opportunity,” he said.

During his daily briefing, DeWine thanked Ohio’s Youth Advisory Board for coming up with this plan.


Message to Ohio Public Children Services Directors on April 24, 2020:

Dear Directors,

Here is some additional information regarding the announcement you heard from Governor DeWine today at the press conference regarding children aging out of foster care and Bridges.

Foster Care: To ensure adequate transition planning and delivery of needed services to foster children, increased flexibility has been instituted within the Multi-System Youth allocation. These funds can now be used to support the cost of extended placement and supports for any youth aging out from any placement setting through June 30, 2020. These funds can be used to pay for supports that were expended as of the March 22, 2020 Stay at Home order.

Please refer to Procedure Letter 349: Foster Youth Not Aging Out for additional information about utilizing these funds to support these youth.

Bridges: In addition, please note that Bridges funding has also been extended to support young adults who turned or will turn 21 through June 30, 2020. Again, these funds can be used to pay for supports that were expended as of the March 22, 2020 Stay at Home order.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Open Letter to Governor Mike DeWine



Open Letter to Governor DeWine from the OHIO Youth Advisory Board and ACTION Ohio, with three requests:

1.) Expedite the timeline for establishing a statewide Foster Youth Ombudsman’s Office.

2.) Extend Chafee supports to age 23, as authorized by the federal Family First Act.

3.) Suspend emancipation proceedings for all youth facing release from foster care for six months, allow re entry for foster youth younger than 21, and allow youth who reach the age of 21 in extended foster care (Bridges) to remain in care through October 30, 2020.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Outreach to federal legislators about COVD-19 and its impact on foster youth

ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare reached to federal legislators in March and in April to propose solutions to safeguard foster care youth and alumni during this current pandemic.




Open letter to the Children's Bureau on March 31, 2020

This open letter to the Children's Bureau from ACTION Ohio, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare and Onward Hope, included eight proactive recommendations.


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. 


Chafee 
- 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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Appreciation for Dr. Milner’s message


Many thanks to Dr. Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, for sending out this message to child welfare staff throughout the nation:

Dear Child Welfare Leaders,

In the last 24 hours the Children’s Bureau has been made aware of the closing of colleges and universities to protect the health and well-being of students.  Unfortunately, for many youth in foster care or formerly in foster care, on-campus housing is their only housing option.  For many of these youth and young adults, there is no place to go once the school has closed their dormitory or on-campus housing, resulting in the real-time potential for homelessness for many of these youth. 

The time to act is now.  We urge all child welfare agencies to immediately contact all youth and young adults in colleges or in other settings who may need assistance finding and securing housing while their college or university is closed.  Some schools and universities are offering the ability to remain in campus housing due to unique circumstances.  We urge child welfare agencies to work with college and universities, urging them to continue to provide housing as appropriate to meet the special needs of youth in foster care/ formerly in foster care.

For those youth and young adults who are not able to stay at their colleges or universities, the child welfare agency should be prepared to offer assistance to young people in identifying housing.  This could be through foster homes, assisting young people to contact relatives and other caregivers, or identifying other settings so that no young adult is without housing.

In all circumstances, we encourage child welfare agencies to be attentive to youth and young adults affected by these circumstances.  Youth may require assistance not only with housing, but also accessing food, health care, and emotional support.  We ask child welfare agencies to act with a sense of urgency to reach out to and support youth/ young adults at this moment.

As a reminder, up to 30 percent of a state’s or tribe’s annual allotment under the Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood may be used to provide room and board assistance to eligible youth ages 18 – 21 (or up to 23 if that option has been exercised in the Chafee plan).    Please direct any questions on allowable use of Chafee funds to your Children’s Bureau Regional Office. 

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of young people in or formerly in foster care.

Jerry Milner
Associate Commissioner
Children’s Bureau

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Don't forget to #FosterMyFUTURE


One of the 2020 priorities of Ohio foster care youth and alumni is to make sure that we and our brothers and sisters of the system are:
  • Adequately prepared to build successful futures
  • Involved in decision-making that effects our lives 
  • Informed about existing resources to us succeed
  • Empowered to help make sure that federal funding streams, such as Chafee, are fully -- and effectively -- utilized to improve youth outcomes.
The dictionary definition of foster is: "To encourage or promote the development of something regarded as good; i.e. 'the teacher's task is to foster learning.'"

Foster care is more than just a placement -- it's an opportunity to 'foster' youth futures and 'foster' youth success.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

FYI Combats Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth


HUD Program Combats Homelessness Among Former Foster Youth
Irene Luo and Jan Jekielek, The Epoch Times, February 25, 2020. 

Every year, over 20,000 foster youth age out of the foster care system. Around 25 percent of them become homeless within four years of exiting foster care, according to the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW). Others, although not homeless, might nonetheless be living day-to-day in a motel, vehicle, or with friends or relatives.

The Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) initiative, launched last year, seeks to end this pipeline from foster care to homelessness.

A group of current and former foster care youth with ACTION Ohio spent six years researching the problem and consulting housing experts to find a solution.
 In March 2019, they pitched their proposal to Secretary Ben Carson of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Just four months later, the FYI program was live.

“You can imagine what that’s like at the tender point in your life, not having the security of a place to call home,” Sec. Ben Carson said in an interview with The Epoch Times for the “American Thought Leaders” program. Such foster youth “can be tremendous contributors to our society, and we need to make sure that we give them a solid foundation from which to launch.” 

Since the start of the program in late July, HUD has awarded over $2.4 million in funding for FYI, which helps former foster youth cover the cost of their rent for up to three years after they stop being supported by the foster care system. Each public housing authority can award up to 25 vouchers per year.

So far, the funding has provided housing subsidies for 497 former foster care youth across the country. The latest round of funding was announced on Feb. 6, with $258,606 going to public housing authorities in seven states. The FYI program is available to foster youth between 18 and 23 years old who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless after aging out of the system. In addition to housing subsidies, it also provides other forms of guidance and job support to help them become self-sufficient. ‘

An Anxious Time’ 
Aging out is “an anxious time” said former foster youth Adaora Onuora. “There’s so many things going through your head.”

When you’re in the system, it’s easy to take housing for granted, Onuora said. But by the last year, “the social workers are kind of banging it into your head,” she said. “What are you going to do? Where can you go? What resources do you have? What family do you have?”

The FYI program is an extension of the Family Unification Program (FUP), which also helps former foster youth avoid homelessness. But FUP is only available to 280 of the approximately 3,400 total public housing authorities in America.

“It wasn’t anywhere near sufficient enough to deal with this problem,” said Sec. Carson. 

After jumping through bureaucratic hoops, Onuora was fortunate to receive a housing voucher with FUP just a few weeks before her 21st birthday.

Onuora has been a vocal advocate of the FYI initiative, with the hope that the housing vouchers she was fortunate to gain access to could be universalized across America for all foster youth aging out of the system. 

Jamole Callahan, a former foster youth and one of the founders of ACTION Ohio, told The Epoch Times: “Out of all the years we’ve been meeting with HUD, Secretary Carson was the first sitting secretary we physically met with.”

“He was the first one that sat down and had an honest conversation with us,” Callahan said. “As one of my sisters in care said it, we are cutting off the spigot of aging youth out into homelessness with this program,” Callahan said.

According to Ruth Anne White, Executive Director of the NCHCW and one of the main advocates for the FYI program, Sec. Carson “heard their proposal, and essentially said, this is fundable. It’s within my authority. It doesn’t require action from Congress. Let’s move.” 

“I’ve never seen anything move at that speed absent something like a natural disaster,” said White, who has worked on affordable housing policy for two decades in DC.

When the program was originally designed, it included a requirement that participants work or attend school, but this was later removed due to criticism from poverty advocates. But the program is nonetheless built with the idea of being a stepping stone to self-sufficiency, “in a similar way that we would treat our own children,” White said. “This is the only voucher that’s time-limited in HUD’s entire portfolio,” White said.

Bipartisan Bill 
While FYI makes housing vouchers far more accessible to former foster youth than before, certain limitations still remain. Only public housing authorities that are not participating in FUP can apply for the new FYI program. But unlike FYI, FUP is a competitive resource, meaning the funds may not be available to everyone and may not be available immediately when a foster child ages out of the system.

“We just kind of have to go through this limbo with the youth as they’re aging out in that last year to find out whether it’ll be available for them,” Onuora said. If they’re unlucky, they’re stuck on waiting lists for years. But that gap could be closed soon with a bipartisan bill that White, Callahan, and Onuora hope will pass in Congress.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would guarantee a housing voucher for foster care youth when they age out if they demonstrate need for it. The bill unanimously passed in the House and is under consideration in the Senate. 

Onuora is currently double majoring in criminal justice and communications at Bowie State University, a historically black college. After that, she plans to head to law school. “My calling is law. I want to be a politician, and I want to make changes for my community,” Onuora said.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Letter to the Editor: Thank you, Governor, for standing by foster youth


As published in the Columbus Dispatch on February 15, 2020, page 10B, Section: Editorial and Opinion, Column: Letters to the Editor:

The OHIO Youth Advisory Board and ACTION Ohio serve as the statewide voices of foster care youth and alumni. We read over the Initial Findings Report by the Governor’s Office of Children Services Transformation with interest.

We are deeply grateful to Gov. Mike DeWine for the continued commitment he demonstrates in caring about foster youth and elevating the voices of youth and alumni by including our voices in these initiatives.

Testimony by our members during the recent foster care forums reflected the top three priorities that we as the firsthand consumers of foster care have identified: the creation of Foster Youth Ombudsman’s Office, better independent living and normalcy practices, and preserving sibling connections.

These priorities directly impact the immediate experiences, long-term outcomes and emotional well-being of young people.

As the council works toward making its final recommendations, it is our hope that all who bear this great responsibility continue to uphold the work that Governor DeWine has long championed — ensuring that voices of youth and alumni are not overlooked.

Lisa Dickson, Westerville

P.S. One sentence was omitted by the paper for brevity, but I think it’s important, so I’m adding it here:

The definition of “transformation” is a thorough and dramatic change. We believe in Ohio’s capability to achieve metamorphosis and move beyond business as usual.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

National Advocacy in 2020

Link to more photos

In 2020, Ohio will be facilitating multiple trips to DC in order to continue to support and celebrate FYI vouchers, and to seek to #BringFSHOHome

Our February trip included:
  • Meeting with Heather Zenone, Senior Policy Director for Representative Karen Bass of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth 
  • Dinner with Chris Patterson, Regional Administrator at U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Region IX 
  • Meeting at HUD Headquarters with Danielle Bastarache, Director of HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, and others 
  • Meetings with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Senator Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa) who introduced the Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act 
  • Meeting with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials 
  • Participation in the 2nd annual National Association of Realtors Conference 
  • Participation in an Open House at the national headquarters of the Children’s Defense Fund 
The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (HR 4300) passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2019. In the meantime, a partner bill (that mirrors this one) has been introduced in the United States Senate.

Please visit this link to learn more about the history of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

We welcome foster care youth, alumni and allies from throughout the nation to take the time to write letters of support to your U.S. Senator and sign the online petition for this national opportunity.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Columbus Foster Care Forum, during which 11 foster care alumni were able to share testimony

Click to enlarge picture, and visit this link for more photos

Foster care alumna and Children Services Transformation Advisory Council member Juliana Barton was able to work with amazing allies at CSCC and the Council in order to hold a dinner/pre-meet before the Columbus Foster Care Forum. This provided a personalized opportunity for participants of Columbus State’s Scholar Network for former foster youth to share their insights with the Council.

Office of Children Services Transformation Director Kristi Burre and Policy Manager Kari Akins made it possible for participating foster care alumni to fill out testimony slips ahead of time. As a result, 10 foster care alumni were able to share testimony during the Columbus Foster Care Forum. (Eleven, if you count Cloe reading mine, because I was able to take photos, but my voice was gone. I remain deeply grateful to Cloé Cooper for reading my testimony aloud during the forum and being my voice).


Kristi Burre started off the forum by stating that, “This evaluation of our system is a long time coming and we know there’s a lot of work to do.” She explained how an Executive Order by Governor Mike DeWine (who is a long-time champion of Ohio foster care youth/alumni) led to the creation of the Council.

 Just as in his former role as Attorney General, 
DeWine held a series of Child Safety Summits, in his current role as Governor, he directed the council to host a series of forums: “All are invited to attend, and those with lived-experience with the foster care system are encouraged to submit testimony.”

This was one of ten Foster Care Forums facilitated by the council.


It was great to hear from foster care allies as well.

Cloe's Testimony for Foster Forum


My name is Cloe Cooper. I am a foster alumni, a member of ACTION Ohio and a Student Coordinator for the Columbus State Scholar Network.

I would like to start by thanking Governor DeWine for caring about children in state care and the outcomes of those who transition out of care into adulthood. I think it is extremely impressive that Governor DeWine choose to have foster alumni on his committee for improvement and I think that youth voice should always have a seat at the table when making decisions in regard to their care and resources.

I am not the type of person who likes to talk about the poor experiences of my childhood and teen years. However, given that this particular platform encourages those like myself to do so, I would like to share not the details of my experiences but rather that the horrific things I experienced in residential facilities as a teen in the custody of Franklin County Children services continues to give me night terrors as an adult. 

While I will not go into detail about the things I witnessed and endured, I will say that what haunts me the most is the feeling of helplessness I embodied as I tried to help myself and my sisters in care make it through our daily lives. Fearing repercussion, there are countless incidents that went unreported. Those that were, were swept under the rug, or myself and my sisters were severely punished as a result of speaking our truth. 3 of the 4 residential facilities I was placed in are no longer operational. 2 of the 3 were shut down due to the mistreatment of its residents.

With that being said, I stand here today and say with every ounce of confidence in my body that it is imperative to the wellness of children in care that the State of Ohio have a Foster Care Ombudsman. The mental, emotional and physical health of children in care will remain at risk if there is no neutral outlet for reports to be made in the event of neglect or abuse. Providing a safeguard and emotional wellbeing to those whose lives are entrusted to the foster care system will help prevent mental and physical illness and the number of AWOL children, those of which are at all time high risk for Human Trafficking. In addition, I think that it is important that youth have their own Ombudsman office separate from one that cares for foster parents because the two needs will likely come into conflict and potentially make youth reports futile.

In addition to the need for a Foster Care Ombudsman, I would like to bring attention to the need of preparation for young adulthood, especially in Residential Facilities. Programming for independent living skills should be the same across the board in all county agencies to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to gain skills regardless of their placement location. It should be mandated that these programs are provided consistently in every county and private agency. In my personal experience, the opportunity to gain independent living skills was scarce.  I was placed out of county and programming for me was hours away in Franklin County. Due to lack of programming in the facility I was placed, and unwillingness from staff members and county caseworkers to transport me where it was provided, I aged out of a residential facility in 2012 and had no idea how to take care of myself.

One of the biggest barriers I faced was finding and paying for safe and stable housing. I did not have the knowledge I needed, and no freedom beforehand to earn the means required to take care of myself. Although I had immediately begun pursuing higher education when I aged out of care, having little support ultimately resulted in homelessness and dropping out of school.

Had it not been for finally securing stable housing for myself, The Columbus State Scholar Network, the support they provided me and the resources I was put in touch with because of my involvement in the program, I don’t know if I would be giving my testimony here today. I do know that I would not be on track to graduate at the end of this semester, and I surely wouldn’t be in the position I am to advocate for better outcomes for my brothers and sisters in care and transitioning into adulthood. I have said this before, and I will say it again and again and again to anyone who is willing to listen.

If former foster youth are given the chance and platform to be successful, the benefits to the nation’s economy, communities and policy improvements are immeasurable. All they need is the opportunity. There is a chance here to give current foster youth their voice and an opportunity to live their lives happily and healthy. I have faith in our shared commitment to improvement. I look forward to seeing what achievements the future holds for our young people in and transitioning out of care.

Thank you for your time and dedication.