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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spotlight on Athens County

103 balloons;
103 kids in
Athens County
foster care.

Think of a balloon floating off into space, without a thread to hold it to the ground.

Think of youth, floating off into adulthood, drifting through the clouds without family roots to ground.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Temporary Setback - Aiming for Long-term Victory

Ohio is reeling from some very bad news when it comes to state investment in child protection and youth preparation for adulthood. Our best response is a collaborative one. Please be aware of the following Ohio-based collaborative initiatives:

1.) Ohio Reach is a statewide effort to address recruitment and retention of emancipated foster youth in Ohio’s higher education system and establish foster care liaisons at Ohio universities and community colleges:

2.) OACCA's Independent Living Legislative Committees include subcommittees on higher education, housing, healthcare/Medicaid, mentoring, transportation and the workforce:

In light of recent budget cuts, it is all the more important to connect young people who are "aging out" of foster care - in the midst of a recession - with a forever community.

Please make every effort to connect today's foster care youth and young adults with the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, and to transport them to statewide quarterly meetings. They need and deserve peer support and a voice regarding statewide policy and procedure.

This deeply matters to all of us.

When it comes to Ohio foster care alumni- we remember the jolt that took place in our lives when we realized that we had been emancipated, we were terminated, we were a closed case. The transition was over, and we needed to fend for ourselves.

This is one of many reasons why we maintained our stance in advocating for the Independent Living Allocation throughout this budget process, and will continue to rally for this cause,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to OACCA Board in praise of Mark Mecum

OACCA Board members,

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America is a membership organization of Ohio former foster youth and our allies in the child welfare system. We are writing to praise Mark Mecum, OACCA’s Associate Director for Government Relations, and to recognize his dedication.

The best way to rate an organization is by the model of the people who create and sustain it. By this reckoning, Mark Mecum’s example is a testimony to OACCA's importance as a leader for child advocacy.

Historically, the Independent Living Initiative has provided life skills training and work support services to prepare for foster youth for adulthood. However, the future of this funding has been continually threatened in 2009. For this reason, foster care youth, alumni and child welfare professionals partnered together to advocate for the needs of Ohio’s 1,300 young people who “age out” of foster care each year.

Mark Mecum's leadership in organizing and planning with legislative meetings were instrumental to getting this funding reinstated in the House, Senate and conference committee budget versions of HB 1. At each stage of the biennual budget process, Mark Mecum stepped forward to remind Ohio legislators to make it a budget priority to make sure that Ohio’s foster care youth receive adequate preparation to face the adult world alone.

Mark’s dedicated efforts include, but are not limited to, drafting templates for testimony, keeping advocates informed about opportunities to testify and establishing a Ready to Launch Coalition to advocate for the needs of Ohio’s transitional youth. We admire Mark’s skill in providing timely communication, and appreciate his structure and leadership, in terms of organizing OACCA’s Independent Living Committees.

Mark’s insight and knowledge were helpful during every step of our advocacy; moreover, he taught us how to better advocate for ourselves. Mark has done an excellent job of giving us insight into the intergovernmental workings of the legislature, as well as the peer politics of advocacy. Thanks to Mark, foster care youth and alumni entered budget hearings prepared to present with the highest degree of professionalism. Mark himself demonstrated extreme poise and confidence during testimony hearings.

Although ultimately Governor Strickland chose to veto the earmark, Mark's efforts generated numerous allies within legislature regarding this bipartisan issue. After meeting with Mark Mecum, for example, Representative Sykes announced that he will form a Foster Care-Independent Living Study Committee to develop legislative and funding recommendations.

Mark's hard work is greatly appreciated by the leadership and members of our chapter. OACCA's commitment, values, and vision are clearly represented through Mark's high caliber of leadership. We are deeply grateful for our continued partnership with your organization.


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair
Foster Care Alumni of America Ohio chapter

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reforming how IL Services are administered in Ohio

Definition of "tenacious:" Persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.
Ohio FCAA members need to be tenacious right now.

Breaking News: Governor Strickland VETOED the Independent Living Initiative.

Item Number 40
On page 2900, delete the boxed text.
Section 309.45.15 Earmark for Independent Living... Read More

Quote: "This provision earmarks $1.5 million of the Children and Family Services line item for independent living services to youth. The majority of the funds in this line item are already allocated to county agencies for their use to support child welfare programs, including independent living. This earmark will constrain the county agencies ability to use the allocated funds in a flexible manner that meets each county's needs to support children. For these reasons, a veto is in the public interest."

This is not a defeat; this is a 'Call to Action'
Regardless of whether or not this financial earmark was maintained, we still needed to follow up regarding how Independent Living funds were administered and whether available Independent Living funds were spent.

Our work was worth it, and our continued efforts are needed!

What do we have now, that we didn't at the beginning of this budget process?
Ohio legislators know who we are, and care about our cause. We gave a voice to a voiceless population - and they listened.

Please note that during our "Call to Arms" about this issue, we have no beef with Ohio Senators and Representatives - we have only heartfelt appreciation. Ohio legislators, in the Senate and the House, both Democrat and Republican, asked insightful questions each time we testified, and in each of their versions, they maintained IL funding.

Throughout this entire process, Ohio legislators have never let us down. The Ohio House of Representatives, Senate and HB 1 Conference Committee all maintained IL funding, and we sill need to write and thank them.

Because of our testimony, House Finance Chairman Representative Vernon Sykes is forming a Foster Care-Independent Study Committee to develop legislative and funding recommendations on funding for IL services for foster youth.

Our 'Next Steps' remain the same:
1. Thank our legislators and invite them to be a part of Rep. Sykes' IL committee
2. Be a part of Rep. Sykes' Independent Living committee
3. Work to establish a Regional approach to Independent Living preparation
4. Enlist our allies in supporting and being a part of our cause.
5. Build a relationship with Ohio journalists.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ohio Advocacy Efforts Throughout HB 1 Budget Process

The official version of HB 1 was released by the Finance Committee earlier this week, and the Independent Living Allocation was preserved:
SECTION 309.45.15. INDEPENDENT LIVING SERVICESOf the foregoing appropriation item 600523, Children and Families
Services, up to $1,500,000 in each fiscal year shall be used to provide
independent living services to foster youth and former foster youth

between 16 and 21 years of age. Page 2900

Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies should be proud.

Youth and alumni who experienced foster care firsthand were HEARD by the Ohio House of Representatives. We were HEARD by the Ohio Senate. We were HEARD by the conference committee.

We fought for an earmark to be amended into the bill from the very beginning. We successfully fought to maintain this funding, despite many rounds of funding cuts.

Without our efforts, this money would not have been inserted into the bill for transition age youth.

It's time to celebrate and give thanks!

1.) We are thankful to our legislators for hearing our testimony, reading our letters and maintaining this important funding allocation.

2.) We thank Mark Mecum of OACCA, Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services, Bryan Brown of Starr Commonwealth, Anita Wainwright of Mahoning County Children Services, Susan Ignelzi, and Brandi Scales, adult supporter of the OHIO YAB.

3.) We thank Nick Bates and Angela Lareviere for supporting Ready to Launch Day, for proudly wearing Ready to Launch stickers and for empowering YEP youth to speak out on behalf of young people throughout Ohio.

4.) We thank YEP youth, VISION Board youth, Mahoning County youth, Franklin County youth, OHIO YAB youth and FCAA Ohio alumni for sharing their voices and a strategic piece of their stories.

There truly is a foster care movement going on in Ohio...

Next Steps:
a.) Sending thank you letters to legislators, including personalizing letters to legislators who asked us thoughtful questions during our testimony and legislative office visits.

b.) Planning a shared celebration that includes foster care youth, alumni and allies from all over Ohio who were a part of this advocacy effort - including YEP youth and supporters.

c.) Meeting with Representative Sykes, in order to further reform the way that Independent Living is funded in Ohio in the future.