Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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. 

- 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 CloĆ© 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.

LaShondra's Testimony for Foster Forum

Coming soon...

Nikki's Testimony for Foster Care Forum

My name is Nikki Chinn, and I am former foster youth that aged out of Franklin County in 2008.  I am one of the founding board members of ACTION Ohio, a member of the Columbus State Scholar Network, and the Youth Constituent Liaison on the Board of Directors for My Very Own Blanket.

I want to first thank the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council for hosting these forums and asking former foster youth to take part. I also want to thank Governor Mike DeWine who has been an incredible ally to those of in and from foster care.

One of most pertinent issues that I would like address tonight is the need for a non-biased foster care ombudsman for our youth in the state of Ohio.  Youth are taken out of their biological homes through no fault of their own, are put in placements that are supposed to be safe and free from abuse and neglect, but unfortunately not all placements are free from abuse and neglect.  Abuse in foster homes has only increased with privatization of the foster care system.

At the age of fourteen, I was placed in a residential center where I witnessed staff members assaulting youth in more ways than one.  This particular placement also used food as a punishment.  If a youth were to act out, many times they would not be permitted to eat the next meal, and if they were it was not the same food that everyone else got to eat.

At the age of sixteen, I spent time in a foster home that had five of us foster youth living in one bedroom.  We had a bunk bed and a single twin mattress on the floor.  The five of us would take turns each night on who got to sleep on a bed/mattress and who slept on the bare floor.  We were not allowed to leave to the bedroom without permission, which included going to the bathroom.  We had no dresser, or closet in our room.  We were not allowed to be with the members of the biological family and were not allowed to talk to our foster mother’s biological daughter.  The foster mother kept pad locks on all the cabinets and on the fridge so we could not get food when we were hungry.  When we did eat, we were cooked ramen noodles while the foster family had actual meals.

In both of these situations, myself and the other youth reported the issues to our case workers, however the problems persisted.  In the residential center it was a very rare occasion when a youth would be permitted their legal right to contact the residential coordinator or make a grievance, and when were allowed to, the coordinator worked for the same company, so our concerns either got swept under the rug or we were told that we making the accusations up.  In the foster home, the foster mother would create elaborate lies about what horrid children we were and how bad our behavior was, so we would get reprimanded from the case workers rather than the foster mother.  Had a Foster Care Ombudsman been available to me at the time, myself and the other youth could have gotten into safer placements much sooner than we did.

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 also 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.

I appreciate you taking the time to listen myself and my brothers and sisters of the foster care system.

Jaye's testimony for Foster Care Forum

Good evening everyone I would like to first offer my sincere thanks and Sunflowers to Governor Dewine for such great compassion for our foster care community and foster care outcomes and also thank you to the Children Services Transformation advisory council for hosting this series of forums it is such an honor to be here before you all 

My name is Jaye Turner and I am a former foster youth with several roles. I am a child of God and my favorite role of all: I am a mother, my son is my best friend. Next to those amazing roles I sit on the Board of ACTION Ohio who have been doing outstanding work to improve foster care outcomes and that's not just here in Ohio, but in our nation.

I am also a Service Reception Coordinator at a private foster care agency where I spend my nights working on finding placement for youth going into care or I am transporting them to their placement home as well has walking our foster parents through crisis. I am also the proud founder of an organization named El’lesun which is created to advocate for and serve our foster care community as a whole so we are creating programs for our youth to thrive even in their circumstances and having support groups for our foster parents because we know that without ongoing support our youth will not prosper.

I want to share with you all one issue with the system. Within the many roles I am learning yes, but I am also able to connect and listen to the frustration of not only our youth but caseworkers and foster parents and what's mind-blowing and heartbreaking is to get calls from our foster parents requesting to put their 30-day notice in on a child or give up their license because they don't feel equipped to handle the child's trauma when they're ”misbehaving” they call our agencies in hopes of support and while we have training on how to handle that type of situation so that a child's placement isn't disrupted not all the time does that help and our foster parents still feel as if they aren't getting the support and training they need from us to better do their part.

We know that there are not enough foster parents here in Ohio and it's not because people don't care or that they don't want to help but it's because they lack support and don't want to feel as if they're doing it alone.
There is light in all of this; there is a great solution, and that's surrounding our Foster Parents with a Live Support Group where monthly meetings are held for a time of fellowship where their voices are heard and support is given within each other and the community so they aren't just relying on their agency who lack the time to support them.

With El’lesun we have created and will launch our Support Groups that will provide community resources in ongoing training around crisis prevention trauma as well as helping our youth towards independent living because we know that if our foster parents aren't supported and well then our youth will still experience instability in and out of the system... 

Ashley's testimony for Foster Care Forum

Good Evening to you all, I would like to take this time to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to hear our stories. It is my hope that in sharing my experience, I can help contribute to the betterment of our foster care system; for the youth, foster care alumni and its workers on all levels.

My name is Ashley Williams and I am a former foster youth. I am a graduate of both Columbus State Community College and Kent State University. I have a job that I love and safe space to call home. However, years ago, I did not believe this was remotely possible. I was navigating life without help or guidance when I was placed in Kinship Care with my siblings.

There were five of us, me and my siblings living with relatives in a small home in Toledo, Ohio. We had not been told why we were there and why we were not able to see our parents. I surmised it was due to their unstable lifestyles but that was something I could not tell to my siblings. I was 14, how could I explain that to them? I would like to see these matters address to the youth; tell them why they are in foster care, explain to them what is going on.

We were good kids, but sometimes that had not been enough for my relatives. We were the ‘annoying children’ of their sister. We were made fun of, pitted against one another, asked to do things we should not have been allowed to. We had an overworked case worker who just could not keep up with our issues along with the many families in the same predicament. We had a new case worker after her. It was like starting over again. I would like to see resources for self-care for case workers and social workers. They cannot help us if they cannot help themselves.

I asked if we could find out what was going on with our parents to get answers and was angrily told to forget about them. I was too scared to speak up anymore, because it would risk me and siblings to be split up. Not many people could house five children together. In the years that followed, we got older and wondered what would become of us when eighteen years old meant you were out. I was told to save money to get a place at sixteen to prepare. I was perplexed on how that was going to get done when I was a part-time cashier at a grocery store. We all grow up and become adults. I would like to see foster care dive deep to provide all resources necessary for teens in care to become healthy, functioning adults.

Independent Living was established when I was eighteen and I scrambled to learn all I could to be a functioning adult. I had two stellar case workers who stuck by me and made sure I got the resources I needed to apply to college, books when I got accepted and how to manage bills. Independent Living was extremely crucial as I had to explore the world as a adult. I am one of the lucky ones. Other teens I knew did not have such resources and were left behind while others soared. I would like to see Independent Living available for all 88 counties in Ohio so no one is left behind.

I appreciate you all for listening. This is just but a snippet of my life journey. I hope it will encourage unbridled action to provide a sense of normalcy for our foster youth in Ohio and the nation. I believe if we all work together, it is indeed possible. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Gabriella's testimony for the Central Ohio Foster Care Forum

Here's a link to all the photos from this event.

Good evening Governor DeWine, children services representatives, and fellow foster care alumni. Let me begin by expressing my sincere gratitude for your displayed interest in providing foster care services that result in positive outcomes. I would also like to thank Children Services Transformation Advisory Council for hosting this series of invaluable forums.

My name is Gabriella Craft and I am a foster youth alumnus of Franklin County and an Ohio-Licensed, Masters level Social Worker. I have spent the past decade providing care to individuals in the community suffering with mental health and addiction disorders. Both my personal and professional experiences have afforded insights in challenges faced by many foster youths. I would like to briefly share these challenges and provide suggestions to effectively address these challenges for the future.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that has, and continues to face foster youth is a general lack of life skills training and independent living preparation. As one of many foster youths that “aged out” of the foster system, I regret never being provided basic preparation in areas crucial to functioning as a productive adult in society. Through my professional experiences, I’ve come to find that this is a common thread among foster youths. There is a general lack of provided education in managing personal finances, self-care/reproductive health, employment preparation, and even basic skills such as cooking and driving a vehicle. This gap in services serve to exacerbate an ever-present list of challenges already faced by this population.

While I have been fortunate in my adult life to have had the tenacity and resourcefulness to assist in my coping skills,  quite frankly, I still struggle with the ability to compensate for my lack of basic cooking, budgeting, and common life skills that I did not receive while I was still a part of the foster system. When I reflect on these challenges accompanied by the daily challenges, we all face as adults, the overwhelming realization is that this issue expounds well beyond me.

We place so much faith and funding in our institutions, and expect they serve their clients by helping them stay safe and meet their needs. I think better preparing our foster youth for adulthood by providing them skills and training to safely and effectively manage their everyday lives is how we accomplish this task and eliminate these gaps in services.  There needs to be caring adults and former foster youth who are utilized to train others in these areas as a part of a “pay it forward” initiative.

It is vitally important that Ohio provide a statewide, consistent, and evidence-based approach when it comes to independent living preparation. It is unacceptable that the current level of preparation that a young person receives, is dependent upon which county they live in and/or which private agency is entrusted with their care. For our state not to adequately and consistently prepare foster youth, ages 14 and over, with life skills to help them succeed in the future is a violation of Federal Law.

I would like to recommend that the state seek funding and collaboration with agencies to deliver basic life skills to foster youth. I also propose that every foster youth be evaluated with a standardized assessment for deficits in these or other domains of basic life skills so they can appropriately be linked with agencies to fill these gaps. I am convinced there must be a better way to help protect and prepare foster youth for life before they leave the foster System, and I am fully willing to work with representatives of the foster System to help initiate that needed change. I am inspired by the words of human rights lawyer and activist, Megan Davis, who once said, “It takes a village to raise a child, and I choose to be an actively-participating member of my village.”

Lisa's testimony for the Central Ohio Foster Care Forum

(Thank you, Cloe, for reading my testimony aloud because I had laryngitis)

Good evening. My name is Lisa Dickson, and I am a former foster youth. I serve as co-facilitator of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board and Communications Chair of ACTION Ohio. Our two groups have been working together since 2006 in order to improve foster care outcomes in our state and in our nation.

I wanted to begin by thanking Children Services Transformation Advisory Council for hosting this series of forums. We share your goal to positively transform foster care in the state of Ohio.

I also wanted to offer heartfelt gratitude to Governor Mike DeWine because he is a long-time champion when it comes to improving outcomes for young people in and from foster care. In his former role as Attorney General, he included Ohio foster care youth in each of his eight Child Safety Summits and empowered foster youth as Subject Matter Experts during the Two Days in May Conference in 2012.

Young people enter foster care due to factors outside of our control, such as neglect, abuse or separation from a parent to due to their death, incarceration or substance abuse. As foster care youth, we did not choose the family into which we were born - we can only make our own choices. In the midst of family upheaval, we seek first to survive the moment at hand, and then try to figure out how to build a positive future.

One thing that threatens our immediate survival is when we are entrusted to unsafe living conditions. The OHIO Youth Advisory Board has received concerns from Ohio foster care youth that their basic needs are not being met in certain, specific group homes, foster homes and residential and adoptive placements.

They have reported being placed in unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions, and having difficulties in contacting their caseworker about the situation. They shared their local agency child abuse hotlines often have long wait times, lack of follow-through on reports made directly by youth, and staff answering the phone who are not youth-friendly.

It is for this reason that Ohio foster care youth and alumni have been advocating for years for an independent office that would investigate their concerns – and requesting that it be housed at a separate entity such as the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

It is our understanding that, in recent foster care forums, foster parents have expressed that they want this office to serve them as well. I care about the needs of all, and so I want to make this message very clear: 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.

To try to combine both needs into one office risks undermining the very purpose that youth asked for an Ombudsman’s office in the first place: To protect youth from abuse in whatever placement they have been entrusted by the system; whether it be foster, adoptive, kinship, residential, or whether the system has chosen to reunify them with bio family.

My second request is that Independent Living Departments should be mandated in every county, and that foster parents and caseworkers who serve teens should be mandated to attend specific training on resources to assist in the transition to young adulthood. As foster youth, whether we are adopted, reunified, or whether we age out of foster care, one thing is certain – we will all grow into adults someday.

The better informed our foster parents and caseworkers are about available resources to help us successfully navigate that journey, the better. Therefore, it is perplexing that foster parents and caseworkers who are entrusted with teenagers are not required to take specific training on resources available to support foster youth transitioning into young adulthood.

This important topic is not mandated in any way for foster parents or caseworkers who serve teens. It is only an option on the training calendar, if it is even scheduled in their area. Often the decision about which training courses to attend depends on whether or not the caseworker/foster parent needs training hours.

This leads to inconsistency in practice, and young people not being informed about resources that exist for the very purpose of helping them. This lack of knowledge is literally costing young people in terms of their short- and long-term outcomes, which can often lead to homelessness.