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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paving the Way for A New Day for Young Adults in Ohio's Mental Health System

In Ohio, we are working to bridge the gap between the juvenile and adult mental health systems.

This initiative, "Paving the Way for A New Day, Young Adults in Ohio's Mental Health System" is based on the premise that: “Transitional youth are the ones in need of the most help because they are at the point in their life where they can either drown in poverty and depression or get the help they need to turn their life around to become productive members of society…”

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America strongly supports this initiative, because we know that transition from juvenile systems, such as foster care, mental health, to adult systems of support can be challenging.

Ironically and sadly, the easiest system-transition is from the juvenile justice system to adult prisons, a.k.a. the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Upcoming 2008 and 2009 conferences

On Dec. 15, 2008, one of the breakout sessions at Ohio's second annual statewide Youth Housing Summit, hosted by YEP, will focus solely on the needs of young people aging out of foster care.

National conferences coming to Ohio in 2009:

April 23 – American Adoption Congress 30th annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio
Aug 12-15 – NACAC 35th annual conference in Columbus, Ohio
Nov 19 – American Association of Children’s Residential Centers in Cleveland, Ohio

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America has submitted workshop proposals for all three conferences. We are confirmed to lead a workshop on "The Importance of Maintaining Sibling Connections" at the AAC conference in April.

Other national events to look forward to in 2009:
NILA Growing Pains conference
Casey It's My Life conference

Statewide events to look forward to in 2009:
Ohio’s 3rd annual statewide Independent Living Summit, hosted by OACCA
Ohio's 3rd annual Youth Housing Summit, hosted by YEP

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving Foster Care Alumni Reunion in Ohio

On November 27, 2008,  foster care youth and alumni from each of Ohio’s 88 counties were invited to enjoy a Thanksgiving buffet and time with our extended foster care alumni community.

Our event took place at the Holiday Inn Dayton. The hotel staff members were incredibly helpful to us - including the chef, who is a foster parent. Here is a link to more photos.

Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services played a strong role in orchestrating this event. Doris believes in the importance of this event so much that she brought her entire family to be a part of it!

We greatly appreciate the assistance given to us by OACCA, who sponsored the price of attendance for many participants, and PCSAO, who agreed to reimburse transportation expenses.

Many thanks also to valued allies, Assistant Professor Alvin Mares of OSU, and Bryan Brown of Starr Commonwealth, for joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ohio chapter at FCAA Alumni Leadership Institute

Dayton Foster Youth Fight For More Reforms Han, Carol. News Center 7, Nov. 18, 2008.

WASHINGTON -- When President George W. Bush signed a foster care bill into law last month, foster youth from the Dayton saw it as a personal victory.

Foster Care Alumni of America estimates that there are currently 700 foster children living in our area. Last year, a group of them traveled to Capitol Hill to ask Ohio lawmakers to support the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.

The sweeping reform bill helps keep siblings together in foster care and provides federal assistance to family members who become legal guardians of relatives' children. It also extends foster care benefits until age 21.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, and on Tuesday, the foster youth were back in Washington to thank lawmakers and to drum up support for more reforms.

Devaughn Staley, 18, wants to see Ohio foster youth be given the green light to get driver's licenses. Ohio is one of many states that do not allow kids in foster care to get a license due to insurance liability reasons. Staley wants to see the state help take up the liability. He told News Center 7 that it has been hard not being able to drive to the mall or to a job.

"We're pushing for Ohio to close that gap between foster kids and normal kids," Staley said. "Close that gap so we can be normal and feel like we belong."

Other students want to see more help extended to foster kids who want to go to college.

Alex McFarland described how credits from his high school in Tennessee weren't accepted by his school in Ohio. As a result, the 18-year-old could not graduate with his class and had to get a G.E.D.

"It was a big letdown for me because I really had that American dream about going to college with a high school diploma, walking across the aisle, going to my senior prom and I didn't have that," McFarland said.

McFarland now attends Sinclair Community College and has plans to transfer to Ohio State University.

Adrian McLemore, an 11-year veteran of Ohio's foster care system, is now a junior at Wright State University studying business and political science.

News Center 7 first met McLemore in May 2007, when he and the first group of Dayton foster youth lobbied Congress for foster care reform.

McLemore says he's happy to be back in D.C., especially so soon after President-elect Barack Obama's election win.

McLemore -- who plans to run for political office someday -- said, "Barack Obama beat me to it, he beat me to the election. But it's a testament to the resolve [about] working hard and working for the American dream. He just made it that much closer of a reality for me."

For video coverage, please visit:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Overview of Goals, Projects and Accomplishments

Approximately 1,000 young people age out of the Ohio foster care system each year. As alumni of foster care, we share the same parent: the State.

Therefore, it is our privilege as members of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America to support young people aging out of foster care in our state during their journey to adulthood.

2008 Focus Areas:
1. Support Ohio statewide and local youth advisory boards.
2. Equip youth with the skills to share their personal stories in an effective and non-exploitive manner.
3. Educate others about available resources to assist youth on their journey to adulthood.
4. Educate others and ourselves about Best Practices in Child Welfare throughout the nation.
5. Provide trainings for child welfare professionals, foster parents and young people in and from foster care, focusing on preparation for adulthood and long-term emotional resiliency.

2008 Partnerships:
1. Assist VISION Board of Montgomery County with leading a series of trainings to develop county and regional youth/alumni advisory boards.
2. Support of the OHIO YAB; including creating a blog for their use.
3. Testimony regarding House Bill 7, in collaboration with Adoption Network Cleveland.
4. Involvement in OACCA’s Independent Living Legislation forums and subsequent workgroups.
5. Support IHS with their annual Trainer event and development of a Youth Ad Hoc Committee.

1. In March, we presented two workshops at the CO-OHIO Youth Advocate Services conference, presented one workshop at the IHS Trainer Event, and participated in a panel during the OACCA Advocacy Conference.

2. In May, we participated on a panel during the ODJFS Foster Care Month Event, presented a workshop and keynote address at the Daniel Memorial Foster Care Conference and presented two concurrent workshops for the Colorado Summit on Children, Youth and Families.

3. During June, we attended Montgomery County's Rising Up and Moving On event and spoke with Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland during the Ohio Family and Children First Forum.

4. In July, we participated in four regional youth advisory board trainings and two of OACCA's four legislative forums.

5. During the fall, we led two workshops, one general session and a keynote address during the NILA Growing Pains conference, two workshops during the Casey It's My Life conference, facilitated a one-room resource fair during the IL Summit, and led a breakout session focusing on foster care during the YEP statewide retreat for homeless youth.

Ongoing Projects:
1. Continue to provide workshops for Village Network.
2. Continue to work with IHS to certify foster care youth and alumni as state child welfare trainers for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program.
3. Continue to offer support, training and encouragement to local, regional and statewide youth advisory boards.
4. Maintain our active support OACCA’s advocacy efforts regarding Independent Living legislation.
5. Continue serve on the planning committee for Ohio’s annual Independent Living Summit and the Youth Housing Board of YEP.

2009 Initiatives:
1. We will support Cincinnati Works with their Next Step Network, designed to assist young people in and from foster care in achieving employment and stability.
2. We will present at two national adoption conferences about the importance of maintaining sibling connections and providing for adoptees during the transition to adulthood.
3. We will work with Professor Alvin Mares on housing, peer mentoring and education initiatives.
4. We will work with Village Network to develop a supportive structure for young people from their program to return to after emancipating from foster care.
5. We will strive to build a stronger partnership with Franklin County Children Services and the Ohio Family Care Association (statewide foster parent organization).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Foster Stories

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words....

This is even more true when that picture has been created and dramatized by Darrin Hoover.

To read more, please visit this link.

Four recent Ohio statewide events

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America shared support and insights at four recent Ohio statewide events focusing on the needs and concerns of young people aging out of foster care.

1.) On Aug. 10, 2008,
YEP hosted a statewide retreat for homeless youth . Because half of the youth in attendance had a history of foster care, Lisa Dickson led a breakout session focusing on resources and opportunities.

2.) On Aug. 19, 2008, during the statewide foster care rally "Success is a Choice," Lisa Dickson gave remarks about what policymakers and the community stakeholders can do support foster youth.

The keynote address was led by foster care alumni and motivational speaker Cedric Riley, sponsored by Franklin County Children Services and attracted an audience of over 150 youth, representing Athens, Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties.

3.) On Sept. 18, 2008, during the youth track of the PCSAO annual conference, presenters included representatives from FosterClub and the National Campaign to Prevent Youth and Unwed Pregnancy.

The final workshop of the day was led by Misty Stenslie, Deputy Director of Foster Care Alumni of America, during which she shared about the Culture of Foster Care.

4.) On Oct. 3-4, 2008: Ohio's second annual statewide Independent Living Summit was led by OACCA and supported by youth advocacy organizations throughout the state.

The Ohio chapter of FCAA facilitated a one-room resource fair, including the Door to the Future and information about Job Corps, WIA, ETV funds and Dress for Success.

NILA Conference

The 2008 NILA Conference was a huge success!

The Dayton V.I.S.I.O.N. Board hosted and led pre-conference activities:

Lisa Dickson of Foster Care Alumni of America gave a keynote address, after which O.H.I.O. YAB President Adrian McLemore and members of the VISION Board shared “My Vision” T-shirts.

The second keynote of the conference was led by FCAA ally member and highly acclaimed national speaker Michael Sanders:

Opening the Door to the Future, Closing the Door to the Past

Do you see this tall slab of wood? It began as nothing more than an ordinary door. But it was transformed over a weekend into a vehicle for dreams.

The front of this door was decorated by young people in and from the Ohio foster care system with their hopes and dreams.

The theme for Ohio's second annual Independent Living Summit, hosted by OACCA, was: "Opening the Door to the Future."

Next month, during the FCAA Thanksgiving event, the theme will be: "Closing the Door to the Past."

The back of this door will be decorated by young people in and from foster care with symbols of things from our past which, as we move forward, we are going to leave behind.

For some people, this might be anger or bitterness. Others might try to save their biological family at the expense of themselves.

Sometimes we who have experienced foster care feel we are unworthy of love, because we weren't loved as children. We might remember negative predictions that other people have made about the future outcome of our lives, and foolishly measure ourselves based on other people's shortsighted estimations.

These are the kind of things we want to leave behind as we continue to move forward. And, we want to support one another and move forward together.

Many thanks goes to Home Depot to donating this door to the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Youth Advisory Boards in Ohio

During the month of July, the Montgomery County VISION Board, adult supporters Doris Edelmann and Stacia Burlingame and Ohio FCAA chair Lisa Dickson led a series of YAB trainings in Ohio's Northwest, Southeast and Northeast regions.

The trainings were a huge success, as a result, Athens, Portage, Stark and Lucas County are each in the process of creating their own youth advisory boards!

Ohio benefits greatly from the vision of the V.I.S.I.O.N. Board:

We look forward to seeing A.C.T.I.O.N. in Athens! (Athens County Together in Overcoming Negatives)

We all, including TAGyc, Cleveland's YAB, plan to support Stark County youth in their focus on L.A.F. (Living After Fostercare)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Meeting Cororado Governor Bill Ritter in person

Photo of Gov. Bill Ritter with Lisa

Lisa Dickson had the privilege of meeting Colorado Governor Bill Ritter in person this week at the Many Voices, One Vision Colorado Summit on Children, Youth and Families.

This conference is both the 17th annual Colorado Child Welfare Conference and the 8th annual Judicial Family Issues conference.

The conference attracted over a thousand participants.

Lisa Dickson, Amanda Dunlap and Amanda Keller of Foster Care Alumni of America presented two concurrent workshops on "Demystifying Emotional Resiliency."

Our audience included: judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, CASA volunteers, social workers, caseworkers and foster parents.

Each of Colorado's 22 judicial districts were represented,
and had to post concrete evidence of what they were doing to help children and families.

The focus areas were: Permanency, Safety and Well-Being.

The judicial participants in this conference were there because they believe in front-end solutions and are willing to dedicate their time and efforts toward generating lasting, positive change.

As one judicial staff member eloquently stated, "It's cheaper in the long run to do things right up front.

"What I say about government is that there's never enough time and money to do it right, but there is always time and money to do it over."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Keynote presentation at Daniel Memorial Foster Parent Conference, May 2008

The title of Lisa Dickson's keynote presentation at the Daniel Memorial Foster Care Conference was "Life Without Limits: Exceeding Expectations for Former Foster Care Youth."

Below are some quotes from her presentation... The theme was ordinary heroes, and the purpose was to improve outcomes for foster care youth and alumni.

"When faced with extraordinary odds, we need ordinary heroes... and the opportunity to become one of those heroes exists for every person in this room. Each one of you have the opportunity to make a lasting and positive impact when it comes to foster care.

"The lady who introduced me did a wonderful job of listing my credentials. But, just like every person in this room, there are layers to who I am. I could tell you that I am a wife and a mother – and that would work. That would be a safe answer.

"I could tell you that I am a stepmother, and that would reveal a little more about me. Those of you who are stepparents or foster parents know the challenges of defining your role. You’re not the “real” parent – so, are you allowed to discipline? You’re not the “real” parent,” so what if the biological parents don’t always respect your rules?

"But – what if I told you that I was a foster child? What are the first images that come up in your mind when you consider that as part of my background? How does that change the way that you see me?

"Does it make me more or less credible? Just as foster parents are often perceived as either saints or sinners, telling someone that you are a former foster child can open up a Pandora’s Box of preconceived notions. Am I 'Annie' or 'Ellen Foster?' Or, am I the latest perpetrator on CSI?

"It is never quite that simple and straight-forward, is it? What if I told you that, after aging out of foster care, I struggled along the way? What if I admitted to making dumb decisions that I am ashamed of now?

" I could tell you, in my softest voice that, even though I made it to college, and earned degrees from both college and graduate school, along the way, there were many times when I was discouraged, and ready-willing-and-able to make any number of the same stupid mistakes that most young people make along the way.

"So, help me here: At what point was I a statistic? And when exactly did I become a survivor?

"Because, we all know that there are dire foster care statistics - and they tell us what to expect, don’t they? Most of those studies focus primarily on teenagers and young people in their 20s. In a sense foster care youth are taught what to expect from themselves, and the adults in their lives are given preconceived notion of what to expect from them. I believe those expectations are too low.

"Those statistics tell us that we stand a great chance of being homeless, incarcerated, unemployed, uneducated and uninsured. We are at higher risk of sexual promiscuity, unplanned pregnancy and carrying on the cycle with our own children of neglect, abuse or abandonment.

"But is that all we are? Does that truly define what we are capable of? Are we just a case number?

"Or can we be empowered? There are 12 million foster care alumni in the United States. We are not children. We are not teenagers. We are adults – and we represent a formerly invisible population.

"We are the consumers of the child welfare system - and listening to our voices will provide child welfare professionals with insights that are not available elsewhere. As adults, we have had time to reflect upon our experiences and make sense of them.

Because of our personal and professional experiences, we are uniquely aware of the challenges faced by young people in and from foster care. We have first-hand knowledge what it is like to age out of care and navigate the adult world.

"The idea behind consumer movements is that the consumers of a service should be involved in its design and delivery, and should be given opportunities to evaluate their experience. We are the consumers of foster care, and any time that a new law is passed that effects foster care, it needs our input.

"Similar movements include: the civil rights movement, women's suffrage, the disability rights movement, the faith movement and GLTBQ.

"There comes a time when we need to stand up and be counted. After all, where would the civil rights movement have been without Martin Luther King Jr.? Where would the women’s rights movement have been without Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Where would the disability rights movement be without Ed Roberts?

"But Martin Luther King Jr. didn't start out being MLK. The 2007 It's My Life conference took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and a group of us were able to take a trip to see his birthplace. Have any of you ever been there? Martin Luther King started out as an ordinary hero with humble beginnings.

"The foster care movement started in Canada, inspired the development of CYC in California, and led to the development of alumni groups and youth advisory boards in various states.

"The collective voice of former foster children all over the nation, and their allies within the child welfare system, is currently being shared through membership and involvement in Foster Care Alumni of America.

"Rather than simply celebrating those who 'beat the odds,' it is time for all of us to work together to change those statistics for the better:

- Do we want to change the homelessness rate? Well, then it's time to invest in youth housing.

- Are we concerned about emancipated youth lacking medical insurance? Then, it's time to extend Medicaid to age 21 years old for former foster care youth.

"But making these resources available is not enough. It is only the first step. Young people need to know that these services are out there. And they will often need assistance in navigating Medicaid, college entrance and the myraid of other mazes that exist in the adult world."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grace testifying at the hearing

When Gabe told me that his sister Grace was a talented public speaker, I had no idea just how fabulous she was. She had that room mesmerized. I wish you could have heard her...

She had practiced sharing ahead of time, so that her inflections and pauses perfectly matched what she was saying.

In between sharing her brother's testimony and sharing her own, Grace didn't just reel off a list of her brother's credentials, she said in an affectionate voice, "My brother is..." and with each of his accomplishments, you could hear the pride ringing in her voice.

It was beautiful...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Adoptee Testimony on Bill 7

Grace Hilliard's personal testimony at the Columbus Statehouse, April 30, 2008

In the state of Ohio, when a child is adopted, their birth certificate is permanently altered. Legally, it is acceptable to lie, to forge a medical document. Why is this so? Because the law, a supposed means of affirming truth and justice has directed it so for over forty years.

What does this look like on paper? It means the parental names, information and age are fraudulent. To a bystander this may not appear to have deep consequences for a baby. I assure you there are. For an older child, for me who’d accumulated ten years of history prior to being adopted, this piece of paper resonated as insulting and absurd. In this situation and others where the child knows very well the identity of biological parents and siblings the violation feels much more preposterous.

What are the results of this horribly constructed band-aid of a lie? For starters, if siblings are separated, they are no longer related. A victim of such a circumstance cannot list their brother or sister as next of kin. Health records also become very difficult or impossible to attain if the biological parents are allowed to remain anonymous. Wrongfully, the government has legalized lying to people under the justification of privacy protection.

When a child is adopted their name is changed permanently to the name of the adoptive parents. In many cases, when the situation goes awry, the adoptee can never escape identification with the adoptive parents.

Thus far in Ohio, a name change offers no relief of this haunting reminder. In Ohio, a personal name change holds less credibility than a government falsification on a medical document.

Let’s go back to the issue of privacy. When a person engages in procreation, they should be held accountable for the ramifications. Through a person’s irresponsibility, they have already forfeited a ‘right’ to privacy. It is in no way the government’s responsibility to enable a lie which rewards the irresponsible procreation, the neglect or the abuse of children by denying adoptees the right to information about their identity as a human being.

Furthermore, the government should not be allowing adoptive parents, as wonderful as they are the option of lying to their children, concerning their origination, simply because the adoptive parents may feel threatened or insecure about their identity as a parent.

Go back with me if you will, to when you were ten years old. You’re with your brothers and sisters, maybe even an only child. Picture you’re with your family. You know who your parents are. It has become abundantly clear that your parents are incapable of raising you.

Everyone is gathered in your life, your brothers, sisters, extended family, parents and foster parents. They have all come together to see you, one last time, on this tragically beautiful spring day to say good-bye. You hug your baby brother good-bye, not fully comprehending what fourteen years without him will mean. You’ve not even experienced fourteen years of life. No, you’re not dying although maybe inside you feel this to be the case.

Fast forward with me to the bang of the gavel in the courtroom, to the finalization of the erasing of history. Legally, you could grow up and marry your brother. The one affirmation of your identity, this piece of paper, your birth certificate is a lie.

Grace Hilliard

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Three statewide confererences in a row!

Gabriel Koshinsky and A. Keller

The Ohio chapter of FCAA recently presented at three statewide conferences in a row!

The first was for specialized foster parents (CO-OHIO), the second was designed to train the trainers of every state social worker and foster parent in Ohio (IHS), and the third was for private and public foster care agencies (OACCA).

A. Keller, who spent time in the Ohio foster care system and is currently a Rotary scholar at McGill University in Canada, flew to Ohio to assist with all three conferences. She was a strong voice in sharing knowledge about adolescent brain development and the dangers of overuse of psychotropic drugs on foster care children.

During the OACCA statewide advocacy conference, Ohio foster care alumni were able to share their insights and concerns with Representative Jim McGregor and State Senators Ray Miller and Keith Faber. Vanessa Jackson educated legislative representatives about the challenges of being a teen mother in the foster care system and the short-sightedness of not investing in opportunities to facilitate teen parents and foster care alumni in seeking higher education.

Ally member Doris Edelmann and alumni member Lisa Dickson were both awarded the Virginia Colson award, a statewide award named after a youth advocate and given to every year to someone who has made a positive difference for young people in and from the foster care and/or juvenile justice system in Ohio.

As a result of contacts made during the OACCA conference, Amanda Dunlap and Gabriel Koshinsky will be involved in the Ohio Adoption Planning Group (OAPG) and have a voice regarding an Ohio legislative bill on hold, House Bill 7, that is specifically directed towards adoption reform.

Gabriel Koshinsky has recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. to attend the Child Welfare League of America training for a foster care peer mentoring initiative in Franklin County, Ohio. He participated in a youth panel at the OACCA statewide advocacy event, and was a strong voice for adoption reform.

Gabe and other members of the Ohio chapter will be participating in a youth forum during the statewide ODJFS Foster Care Month event on May 5th.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

State of the Board Address by Adrian McLemore

Photograph of President Adrian McLemore of the Ohio statewide youth advisory board and President Kierra Williams of Montgomery County's VISION board.

The state of our board is well as can be expected for it to be for our first year of existence. We have accomplished a lot of our goals during our first year; and have laid the groundwork for future boards to follow.

We set high goals for this organization, and I have no doubt that we will achieve them. We told the United States Congress that it’s time to reform the foster care system. We told them that it’s time to start acting like our parents, and I strongly believe they got the message.

We told the Ohio Legislature that we needed health care past the age of 18. They disagreed at first, but after we testified again and stressed the importance, they passed the law – and now every child in foster care has the opportunity to have health coverage until the age of 21.

We traveled the state, spreading the message of improving the foster care system, and our voices have not gone unheard. We have attended countless conferences and sat on numerous panels, discussing the issues that concern us most. We have stood in front of agency directors and told them how child welfare policies need to be updated or changed altogether.

As you can see, we have done a lot this year, but all of our success would not be possible if not for the help of youth and adult supporters alike...

As we move forward, we must focus on what lies ahead. We have one foot in the door already, and we must step through it.

We must receive our 5013c status in the coming year, to solidify our legitimacy in the state of Ohio. We must fight for teen mothers in foster care, and for better treatment in group homes across the state. We must fight for tuition waivers so that we may further our education. We must fight for better foster parent training, and develop a statewide handbook so that the entire state is on par.

To the new board officers this year, congratulations, you have inherited a board in great shape, ready to move forward. We have established a presence in the Capitol, a presence in the agencies, and a presence in the state. On behalf of the 2007 Youth Advisory Board state officers, I wish you much success and God bless!

Outcome of YAB elections: President Adrian McLemore, of Montgomery County, is entering into his second term of office. Vice President Ebony Orr and Media Spokesperson Danny Taylor represent Cuyahoga County. Treasurer Laura Johnson, Parliamentarian James Burge and Secretary Katrina Gallimore represent Lorrain County.

Lorrain County youth advisory board

The mission statement of the Lorrain County Youth Council is: "To make life easier for those entering, living in and leaving foster care, by providing advocacy, knowledge and opportunities."

Their 2008 objectives are: to improve the foster care system, to develop a Sibling Visitation Day, to advise foster parents and social workers not to deny sibling visitation as a punishment, and to create a DVD for young people entering foster care.

Orientation 2 Emancipation

The Cuyahoga Teen Advisory Council is an association of teens who are or have been in out-of-home care working to advocate for change while addressing the needs of teens.

Over the past year, the TAGyc has met with Frances Strickland and other state representatives to share their experiences, laid the foundation for a transitional housing community, and created a Teen Rights Booklet.

Their recent Orientation 2 Emancipation Forum drew an audience of approximately 34 youth, 10 alumni and 6 social work professionals.

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America presented a workshop on emotional resiliency and shared a board game created by Lisa Dickson that illustrated both the challenges and the resources for aging out of care

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Insights from A. Lynn Keller

We all undergo difficult periods in our lives. We might say something without thinking, yell or cry at an inopportune moment, or neglect to consider another person's feelings... Stress, hormones and/or life-altering events can cause us to behave in a way that is less than our best.

When those moments come into our lives, we want support and understanding from other people. For this reason and many others, I wish my social worker had thought to question my medical diagnosis after I entered foster care.

Young people in foster care are often diagnosed with mental disorders for being impulsive, emotional, inattentive or defiant. Psychiatrists can be contextually insensitive by not considering the environmental reasons behind the behavior. Part of being a teenager is having mood swings. Part of surviving a crazy home life might mean exhibiting unusual behavior.

I am currently a bilingual Rotary Scholar, a writer, a graduate student, happily in love with a wonderful man, a yogi, a tutor and an aspiring filmmaker. But I still suffer from long-term medical problems that are a direct result of the medication I was given as a child.

Social workers should research the disorders that young people are labeled with and the side effects of their medication. Psychotropic drugs have not been tested on children because they were created for adults. Sedating young people might make them easier to handle - but it doesn't teach them how to deal with the past and adapt to the future.

- A. Lynn Keller is a member of Foster Care Alumni of America who is accomplishing great things. Please visit her web site: