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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Connecting the Dots Conference featured in Foster Focus Magazine

Owned and edited by a former foster youth, Foster Focus is the nation's only monthly magazine dedicated to the foster care industry and community.

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America greatly appreciates Chris Chemielski's willingness to travel six hours away from his home, to support Ohio's 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference. We also appreciate him sharing about the conference in the November issue of Foster Focus Magazine.

To quote from Chemielski's article:     

"Before I delve into the details of the event, let me make note of the coordinators of the conference. Lisa Dickson is a former foster youth turned pit bull foster care advocate, and Doris Edelmann is a German-born transplant, with a passion for helping kids...

"This particular conference focused entirely on the Ohio foster youth population. Innovative activities included a Suits for Success room, where youth were able to choose (free) business attire...

"The Keynote Speaker was Archie Griffin, an Ohio native and college football's only two-time Heisman trophy winner..."

"Other highlights included a Resume Clinic, during which youth had one-on-one sessions...

To learn more about the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference, please visit:

To learn more about Chris Chemielski and Foster Focus Magazine, please visit:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Article by John Diggins of Lorain County Leadership

Beginning in 2008, the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America began hosting one or more annual FCAA Thanksgiving Reunions for foster care teens, young adults and older alumni of the foster care system:

As former foster youth, we want our brothers and sisters of the system to know that they always have a seat at our table, their voices, talents, insights and mutual encouragement are what lies at the heart of this celebration and that it is an honor for us to stay in touch with them, as they enter into young adulthood, find their places in this world, and move beyond the shadows of their past to build bright futures and families of their own...

It takes a village to host these annual events, and we are deeply grateful for our alumni members, allies and sponsoring organizations for making it possible, in 2012, for Four Thanksgiving Dinners to be held, in SW, NW, NE and Central Ohio. The highlight of each these celebrations is inviting each participant to share their recent accomplishments and/or what they are most thankful for...

My name is John Diggins and, as I shared during the third annual Northeast Thanksgiving Dinner in Cleveland Ohio, I am thankful that my life is for a purpose.

I was placed in foster care 11 days after I was born, and I remained in care right up until I turned 18 years old.  I’m not sure where I would be without the foster care system, despite all of its flaws and wormholes. I am thankful for the caseworkers who serve in their role because they honestly care about children.

I am glad that I was in the system, because it made me a survivor. My father wasn’t there for me, and from his example, I learned the kind of person that I want not to be. I am thankful for all I have been through, and would do it all over again.

My experiences in foster care have put me in a position to see the world and people in a different way. I’ve watched and learned a lot about the system; who you can trust, and how to move forward to pursue your goals without doubting yourself. Today, I am a 22-year-old African American male. I am not a statistic or a failure. I am smart, calm and quick on my feet. I am this way because of the system.

I am who I am because of where I’ve been…  Being black in an all-white family… The years of being introduced as the “foster” son…. Being told, “We love you – you aren’t a job to us,” but why would you even need to say that if I’m not?  My questions and observations led me to spend quality time in my room alone – and it was there that I learned to express myself through words.

I’m thankful to have found my way here to Ohio. I am originally from Philadelphia, and I was 19 years old when I came here. I didn’t tell anyone…  I just packed up my bags and my desktop computer, and left. Foster care had taught me a lot about saying goodbye – and now, I wanted to say hello, to a new beginning.

I wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me when I arrived in Ohio and left the bus station. But I found my place in Lorain County. The children services staff went from being complete strangers to people that I could trust. I could tell them where I’d been, and what I wanted to achieve – and they actually cared enough to try to help me.

Today, I hope my story will help my brothers and sisters of the foster care system. I want them to know that not everything is bad – just learn from it. Don’t let your anger turn into hate. Don’t let your pain turn into bitterness. Not everyone is bad; give people a chance. Just follow what your body tells you, and don’t allow your personal boundaries to be violated.

If I could give one piece of advice to help the next generation, it would be this: “Don’t rush to get out of the system.”   My goal is for teens in foster care to focus on their dreams, turn them into to-do lists and surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I don’t want them to hit the same brick walls that I did.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Central Thanksgiving Together in Columbus

The 2012 Central Ohio Thanksgiving Dinner took place in Columbus: (link to more photos)

Date: Sunday, November 18, 2012
Time: 1:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Location: Harry C. Moore Campus Center, 745 Pleasant Ridge Ave., Bexley OH 43209

Planning Committee Members Include:

    2012 NE Ohio Thanksgiving Together in Cleveland

    The 2012 NE Ohio Thanksgiving Together took place in Cleveland: (link to more photos)

    Date: Saturday, November 17, 2012
    Time: 11:30 am - 3:00 pm
    Location: Antioch Baptist Church, 8869 Cedar Ave., Cleveland OH 43209

    Sponsors Included:

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    2012 NW Thanksgiving Together in Toledo

    The 2012 NW Ohio Thanksgiving Dinner took place in Toledo: (link to more photos)

    Date: Sunday, November 11, 2012
    Time: Noon - 3 pm
    Location: The Andersons Activity Center,1833 Holland Sylvania Rd. Toledo OH 43537

    Sponsors Included:
    Planning Committee Members Include:

    2012 SW Thanksgiving Together in Cincinnati

    The 2012 SW Ohio Thanksgiving Dinner took place in Cincinnati: (link to more photos)

    Date: Saturday, November 10, 2012
    Time: From Noon - 2:30 pm
    Location: The People's Church, 220 William Taft Road, Cincinnati OH 45219

    Primary Sponsors:
    In the words of Katie Deyo, "As a church we believe in these young people and want to bless them."

    Planning Committee Members Included:

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    2012 PCSAO Child Advocate of the Year Award

    Lisa Dickson's acceptance speech for an audience that included county child welfare directors:

    In this life, we have multiple demands on our time, and we are forced every day to make difficult decisions. When faced with conflicting demands, it is our choice to make time for the things that matter most. Professionals face mandates when it comes to performance, numbers are often used to measure success.

    When it comes to measuring success in the child welfare field, it is important to count the right numbers. Not just where our children are physically placed during their time in foster care - adoption, reunification, foster care - but what are their outcomes afterwards.

    Earlier this week, the OHIO YAB had the privilege of spending time with the CCAI Delegation. Every year, CCAI releases an internship report and every year, there is something that resonates with me, as a former foster child.

    Last year, they mentioned counting the right numbers in terms of outcomes. This year, they mentioned that life's transitions do not happen overnight. There is no magical birthday when our young people go bed as children and wake up as fully prepared adults - particularly when their placements have been restrictive, such as residential setttings.

    Just as with our own children, our flesh and blood, that preparation takes time. I am incredibly grateful to Director Colbert and his staff for their continued efforts to Connect the Dots from foster care to adulthood.

    We appreciate ODJFS' support of the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference, during which we had 200 youth, representing 28 of Ohio's 88 counties, and over 1000 clothing donations for the Suits for Success initiative.

    And yet, as this map clearly shows, there is more work that can be done to empower youth voice throughout Ohio. Ohio currently has 12 formalized youth advisory boards - we encourage counties throughout the state of Ohio to become involved in this formalized process to empower youth.

    Why do we want to empower youth?  Because it leads to long-term resilience.  I "aged out" of foster care in 1989 - and out of all of the foster youth from my generation, there were many who did not make it. They felt like they were victims, they felt that they had no power, that life was something that "happened" to them.  But, out of those of us who made it, we know that we have power, choices, and the ability to create positive change in our own lives and and lives of others.

    At this point, I'd like to invite some of our young people to come up and share a visual illustration of the Evolution of Youth Voice:

    Finally, I want to end on a note of gratitude. The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America is incredibly grateful to our allies, and ally organizations such as the Dave Thomas Foundation, OACCA, OHILA, Ohio CASA, the Ohio Supreme Court, and PCSAO...

    We are grateful to frontline caseworkers who go the extra mile, often without pay or recognition. Grateful to those with the courage to advocate from within the child welfare system for Best Practices. Grateful to our Director and his staff for listening to our young people, responding to their concerns, and following up on their requests.

    Most of all, I am grateful to our young people - for their passion, purpose and energy. They rekindle our sense of urgency, and remind us that our work is not yet done.  We, in turn, can offer them opportunites to develop their skills, talents and abilities. We can work with the goal of interdependence, providing them with both resources and human connections.

    One upcoming opportunity to do so are the FOUR Upcoming Early Thanksgiving events for Foster Care Teens and Alumni.

    Our work is not yet done.  But there are times in the midst of business when our vision clears, and we can see what is possible. The sky opens up to us to reveal Our Purpose, Our Passion and Our Potential, as we work together to improve outcomes for young people in and from foster care.

    Thank you.

    Saturday, October 13, 2012

    Spotlight on FCAA Members: Amanda Dunlap

    Below is Amanda Dunlap's recent interview for OCWTP's Common Ground Publication:

    Meet Foster Care Alumni Trainer Amanda Dunlap 
    Amanda is a licensed social worker with a bachelor's degree in Social  Work from The Ohio State University. She was adopted from the foster care system, and has actively advocated locally and nationally for systemic changes for over  five years. She enjoys sharing her experiences from foster care and adoption in training with staff and caregivers to influence change in child welfare practices.

    OCWTP asked Amanda to share her ideas for foster care reform: 

    What is one of your specific advocacy areas related to foster care?

    "Something that I think is important to focus on is lifelong connections.  Youth need positive role models who can be in their life while in care and continue the relationship when they age out."

     Can you give some examples of why this area needs reform?

    "Many youth today age out of the system without the resources they need to help them succeed. Vital to their success is a connection to someone after care they can trust and can go to for help. This is why it is critical for workers and caregivers to realize the importance of allowing youth the opportunity to make these connections while in care."

    What about this issue do you want caseworkers/foster parents/adoptive parents to know?

    "I want people to know that it can be hard for youth to age out and feel like they have no one or no support. While they are in your care they can start to build these relationships with the people around them. Naturally occuring opportunities to develop relationships present themselves at places like church or work, so it is important to give youth these experiences.   You never know who can turnout to be a lifelong connection - maybe a coach, employer, member of the church, or older sibling.

    I had a supportive adult in my life who helped me out with applying to college. The process was long and scary and I was unsure of what to do. With the help of this person, I was able to get enrolled in college and find local scholarships to help me out financially. I owe so much to this person because without them I am not sure I would be where I am today."

    Do you have any creative ideas regarding how this information might be shared in a workshop setting?

    "Yes, through an activity.  The trainer could have trainees draw a picture/outline of three people they had a good relationship with during the ages of 14-19. Inside the picture of the bodies, have them list one important memory or lesson they shared with that person. Organize the participants in pairs, then, have them share their responses with one another. Each person then takes scissors and cuts one person out of their partner's picture and says 'unfortunately you were not given the opportunity to make a lifelong connection with that person and therefore did not get to learn that lesson or have that memory.' This is a very dramatic visual and reminder to trainees that these individuals can have a very big impact on a youth's life."

    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    2012 Ohio CASA Conference ~ Child Advocate of the Year Award

    Lisa Dickson's acceptance speech:
    First and foremost, I want to thank each and every one of you – not simply for being here, but for BEING who you are, and for DOING what you do...
    • It is our choices each and every day, minute-by-minute, that add up to the person that we are.
    • It is our actions, each and every hour, moment by moment, that add up to the ripple effect of positive change that we can generate in terms of improving foster care outcomes.

    Foster Care Alumni of America is a national organization that exists for two purposes: To Connect and to Transform.
    • We Connect the community of those who have experienced foster care personally, offering them a FOREVER family that they can never “age out” of…
    • We Transform, with the help of our allies – and YOU are our allies. Each and every person in this room.
    One thing that we must never let go of is our sense of urgency -- this is what reminds us WHY we do WHAT we do every day, particularly when it comes to those activities that we do as a volunteer.
    I believe, with all my heart, that it is an honor to volunteer on behalf of foster children.
    • Our young people are experiencing abuse and neglect today.
    • Our young people are experiencing foster care today.
    • Our young people are "aging out" of foster care today. 
    For a child in foster care, every day is NOW.  They need our Collective Voice to make a difference. And, they need to be a part of that Collective Voice – it’s not enough just to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves – because we can also EMPOWER them to be the voices of the future.
    I want to tell you about an upcoming event – we are holding Four EarlyThanksgivings in Ohio for foster care teens and young adults with a foster care history...
    Finally, I'd like to introduce you to some of my heroes - the people sitting at my table. 
    Jamole, Joy, Dauntea, Jackie, Bethany W., Amanda and Bethany K.
    Amanda Dunlap was one of the Founding Members of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America.  She participated in our very FIRST Thanksgiving dinner, which took place on the steps of the United States Capitol.
    Alex Gilbert and Dauntea Sledge
    Dauntea Anthony Sledge is Ohio's Ambassador of Foster Care. Do you know someone who is feeling discouraged in their work?  Do they need that extra spark to reignite the fire that got them involved in child welfare in the first place?  Introduce them to Dauntea...
    Dauntea, Tai and Jamole 
    Tai Cornute is a powerful voice for support of Kinship Care Providers. Ask him what it was like to experience kinship care personally. Learn from him the supports that could and should be made available to kinship care providers.
    Bethany Koshinsky
    Bethany Koshinsky has supported the efforts of every FCAA Ohio Thanksgiving since the very first one was held in our state. She has served as Lead Facilitator of the Central OH Thanksgiving for the past two years - and we greatly appreciate her tireless efforts.
    Lisa Dickson and Bethany Workman
    Bethany Workman is Ohio’s very own expert on ETV funds. Ask her about this wonderful resource, orchestrated through Foster Care 2 Success, and how it can support the success of former foster youth in higher education.
    Amanda Dunlap and Jamole Callahan
    Jamole Callahan did such a wonderful job as a trainer during the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference that he received a 100% approval rating from the youth. If you ever want a trainer or speaker who can connect with youth, you will want to call him. 
    Denee Foster
    And a shout-out to one young lady who couldn’t make it today, Denee Foster, who has many insights on how Ohio can dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline...
    Arthur Vincent Miller III and Marcus Henry,
    two amazing young men who are
    making a positive difference in Ohio.
    These are the people who remind me everyday to hold onto that sense of urgency.  I  continue to be inspired by their passion, purpose and potential.
    Please get to know the people sitting at my table. 
    Please consider attending the Ohio Youth Advisory Board workshop tomorrow. 
    And, most of all, please continue doing the work that you do – it is greatly needed and it is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Planning Ahead for the 2013 Connecting the Dots Conference

    Connecting the Dots from Foster Care to A Successful Adulthood

    An Article by Arthur Vincent Miller III:

    What happens when a child has no place to call home?   This is a question that I have asked myself several times, while being in and out of foster care. My name is Arthur V. Miller, named after my uncle. I was born into a loving family despite the absence of my dad on April 19th, 1990 but like most families there were problems. In the beginning of the year of 1998 my uncle whom I was close to was shot and killed and I had to experience my first loss with no one to help me handle it. Due to my behavior change in school, Montgomery County Children Services (MCCS) had gotten involved and on February 13th, 1998 it was decided that I would be a part of the foster care system. Out of the five children my mother had I was the first to be placed in care.

    Where are the lines to connect the dots for young people in and from foster care?  Can I find connection with my biological family – or through people who can relate to me and what I have experienced in the foster care system?  My foster care experience was originally expected to only last one month but, thanks to the continuing investigation of MCCS on my family, they found it best to keep me in care.  I initially had a hard time coping in several foster homes, and I did not find the correct environment that I could call home until I was 16 years old. 

    I came to the home of a loving married couple I considered to be angels named Alma & Lamont Turner. They lived in Dayton, Ohio and had been foster parents for over 20 years and currently had 2 other foster children living with them. A loving home, people I could call family, a place where I did not feel alone and video games to match - what more could a kid ask for… I am now 22 years old and still in contact with The Turners and their family. Even today their family and they themselves treat me as a relative, blood or not. After meeting them I never felt alone again!

    These are the connections I want for my brothers and sisters in and from foster care. And this is why I advocate for more opportunities like the Connecting the Dots conference, that focus on uniting counties and foster care youth from all over Ohio.

    The 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster CareTeens and Young Adults took place on Friday, August 3rd in Columbus, Ohio. This conference was made possible by the favorable response of ODJFS Director Michael Colbert to the Top Five Asks expressed by the Ohio Youth Advisory Board.  Ohio YAB Facilitators played a key role in conference-planning; Lisa Dickson served as Lead Facilitator, with the ever-amazing Doris Edelmann doing lots of work behind the scenes.

    The primary purpose of the Connecting the Dots Conference was to connect Ohio foster care teens/young adults with Education, Employment, Health, Housing, Permanency and Youth Voice in Court. Conference. Registration was free, due to support from ODJFS, PCSAO, and the Ohio Youth Advisory Board. Archie Griffin's Keynote was made possible due to Director Colbert and the ODJFS Office of Families and Children.  ODMH and the ENGAGE initiative funded the entire cost of audiovisual materials for this event.

    The 200 youth who attended the Connecting the Dots Conference not only got the chance to meet, explore, and befriend other young people of similar experiences, but also attend workshops to prepare them for the adult life that lies ahead… The event as a whole was focused on building the knowledge and resources of youth in and out of foster care, while empowering them to want to do and be better in society.

    The 200 youth who attended the conference had the opportunity to browse through over a thousand clothing donations, as part of the Suits for Success initiative. To prepare for the Suits for Success area, Clothing Drives had been held at Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the ODJFS Office for Workforce Development, Office of Unemployment Compensation, and Office of Families and Children. Many young people left the conference with full-piece suits and other professional attire that they could use in seeking future employment.

    When it comes to the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster Care Teens and Young Adults, it is the youth perceptions regarding the day went that are most important. Here are some quotes from youth evaluations: 
    • Please keep this going, I love every bit of it. I feel and see that even people that don’t know me would like to see me succeed in life, and that gives me all the tools I need to keep my head up and stick to my road of success.
    • I really liked the connecting the dots conference because I know there is other people out there like me
    • I enjoyed myself and I’m glad that I came. A lot of teens should come.
    • I think every course I did was great and I think they should be repeated next time
    •  I received the right help
    • I feel more confident about my future
    • I would like to come to these each year
    • I would be glad to come back next year and be one of the speakers and put forth my ideas to reach out to children that grew up like me

    The event ended with the voices of current and former foster youth. Youth participants on the Youth Panel and during the Youth Speak-Out shared encouragement with their brothers and sisters of the foster care system. Things like this encouraged several people to say: “I can’t wait to see you next year” to other youth – indicating that they felt at home and that, in this case, they were not alone.

    Foster care youth are often judged based on statistics or hasty generalizations – but the truth is, we’re pretty cool. Similar to teens or young adults who have not been through the system, we are planning for our future and looking for a place to call home.

    Youth Feedback about the Connecting the Dots Conference

    When it comes to the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster Care Teens and Young Adults, it is the YOUTH perceptions regarding the day went that are most important.

    These are some of the comments from evaluations submitted by the 200 youth in attendance at the conference:
    • Please keep this going, I love every bit of it. I feel and see that even people that don’t know me would like to see me succeed in life, and that gives me all the tools I need to keep my head up and stick to my road of success. 
    • I loved it ☺ 
    • I liked everything 
    • It was really good 
    • Loved everything 
    • I really liked the connecting the dots conference because I know there is other people out there like me 
    • Great conference!! I learned a lot. 
    • I loved it 
    • I love the whole event 
    • I really enjoyed the whole thing
    • I enjoyed myself and I’m glad that I came. A lot of teens should come. 
    • I loved being here and would come back again 
    • All the classes helped me a lot and I really feel that I have learned some important things today 
    • A very fun event! 
    • Enjoyed myself 
    • It was a nice lesson in all – the Suits are one my favorite lessons 
    • It was a very good experience 
    • It was a fun learning experience that I hope to be a part of again
    • Positive 
    • A very enlightening event  
    • I think every course I did was great and I think they should be repeated next time (referring specifically to Financial Aid resources, Keeping Your Life in Balance, Job Interview Role-Plays) 
    • I think they did a good job with giving out information 
    • Had a great time. Food was good. 
    • I thought it was all very helpful. I learned a lot at all of the events 
    • I loved everything about it 
    • Love to listen to the outlook of what others had to say about their experience and how they will help foster children to voice what is best for them 
    • It was very fun, useful and organized 
    • I really enjoyed all the classes 
    • I think this is a good program 
    • Great program 
    • I think that this is a great program. Thank you. 
    • It was fun and exciting
    • AWESOME 
    • Had a good time 
    • I had a great time 
    • I think it was a great day overall 
    • I would love to come again. Everything was helpful. 
    • I would be glad to come back next year and be one of the speakers and put forth my ideas to reach out to children that grew up like me
    • Very good turnout. Staff was very nice. 
    • I want to thank you for your time and helpfulness
    • It was a fun event and I hope to do it again. 
    • I like all of the workshops that I attended – they were fun but very helpful.
    •  I received the right help
    • I feel more confident about my future 
    • I would like to come to these each year 
    One young lady just wrote "Thanks" on the evaluation, over and over again, for each workshop category, ending with “Thanks so much” and a heart at the end.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    Columbus Dispatch Editorial About the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference

    Columbus Dispatch Editorial About the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference:

    Let's keep "paving the way" to improve outcomes for the next generation of foster care youth!!

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    Distinguished Nomination for Dauntea Sledge

    Dauntea Sledge recently participated in the White House Young America Series at OSU -- and now, he is on his way to Washington, D.C.

    The initial of 15 educational conferences provided a venue for young leaders (ages 18-30):
    • To meaningfully engage and interact with officials from the Obama Administration
    • To discuss diverse policy areas that affect their community.
    • To address policy and programmatic areas of importance, while identifying local success stories and practices in policy areas that could benefit other communities across the country.  
    • To connect with each other and Obama Administration officials to share tools and community solutions that can be leveraged to address larger issues.
    As follow-up to the White House Young America Series, the Millennium Momentum Foundation has selected select one student from each of the 15 states targeted and served by the White House Young America Series to participate in the White House Young America Series Outcomes and Results presentation.
    • To showcase initiative results, regional impact, and how the distinguished efforts of selected students accompanying MMF in the presentation are continuing to advance local communities in their respective regions.
    Because of Dauntea's pioneering participation on site at the White House Young America Series in Columbus, OH and demonstrated contribution to change, he received a Distinguished Recommendation for this opportunity.

    Dauntea's participation and presentation in DC took place from Tuesday, July 10 - Thursday, July 12.

    Dauntea's experience in DC included the following activities:
    • MMF Commemorative 10th Anniversary White House Visit and Tour
    • Special Session with the Obama Administration
    • Obama Administration Briefing

    Friday, June 22, 2012

    Adrian McLemore and the International Summit of Youth in Care

    Congratulations to Adrian McLemore for being selected as one of 30 delegates for the 2012 International Summit of Youth in Care World Congress.

    During this event:

    • 30 emerging leaders and 30 senior leaders from across the globe will meet to discuss foster care practices and policies

    The Summit will take place at the University of Maryland:

    • June 26-28: Youth in Care World Congress: 30 invited delegates on-site and hundreds more around the globe will work for three days to share experiences and discuss the challenges they have faced in care and the transitions. Using these shared experiences, they will create the foundation for the first draft of the International Youth in Care Standards for Practices and Policies. Other youth in care, from across the globe, will be invited to participate through an online Virtual World Congress.
    • June 29: Multi-generational Forum on Transition: Young activists, development professionals and policy-makers will engage in discussion together to find new answers and develop new standards for transition related practices and policies.

    Crystal Oliver, Foster Care Alumna and Child Welfare Trainer

    Crystal Oliver and her daughter pictured above.
    This article was originally published in OCWTP's publication, Common Ground.

    Crystal Oliver has become a household name within the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, ever since Rebecca Battles of the NWORTC introduced her to the training system in 2011 as someone we should know. 

    Since that time, Crystal has proved to be a dynamic, dependable, and an engaging individual with a promising future. She is a foster care alum who has "hurdled many obstacles" in life, and has worked hard to overcome each one. 

    Crystal's perceptions and personal experiences about her life in the child welfare system and preparation for Independent Living are noteworthy. We asked Crystal to tell us about one area of foster care in which she would like to make a difference.

    What is one of your specific advocacy areas related to foster care?
    "I really want to focus on the aging-out population."

    Can you give some examples of why this area needs reform?

    "I aged out of the Independent Living Program at Lorain County and found myself in extremely vulnerable situations and unprepared to manage the challenges of life. Many foster care youth as young as 17 and 18 are faced with this same dilemma. Not all counties have adequate resources to provide housing, education, healthcare or material assistance to youth in transition from foster care to Independent Living. Yet, no youth should ever leave the child welfare system without access to basic survival needs. When this happens, homelessness, incarceration and other adversities are often the outcome.

    "To avoid these consequences, I strongly believe youth and young adults in transition need knowledge of and access to available resources; financial assistance; and viable permanent connections with human support systems. Legislative reform at all levels of government is also critical. I want to serve as a resource to other youth aging out of foster care."  

    How can caseworkers/foster caregivers/adoptive parents better equip foster youth in this area?

    "There are four ways I think they can have a postive impact on youth:

    1)Thorough training, including workshops that involve the trainers/co-trainers who have experienced foster care firsthand 
    2) Advocacy
    3) Community forums
    4) Direct collaboration with foster youth and alumni for their perceptions about needed changes"

    What are some creative ideas regarding how this information might be shared in a workshop setting?

    "Invite foster care youth and alumni to participate as guest speakers and panelists, or even convene a panel that includes the youth, foster caregiver, and Independent Living caseworker to share stories from their own perspectives."

    ~ Crystal Oliver is a recent MSW graduate of the University of Toledo with a 4.0 GPA.  She currently enjoys spending time at home with her soon-to-be  two-year old daughter,  Jaycee Lynn as she prepares to transition from years of academic life into professional employment.

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    National Youth & Alumni Policy Council

    On June 1st, the National Youth and Alumni Policy Council met with the Administration of Children and Families to present five proposals...

    Our very own Alex McFarland,
    with Representative Fudge of Ohio's 11th District

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    Appreciation for Attorney General Mike DeWine

    We are grateful to the Ohio Attorney General for stepping up, once again, as a champion for young people in and from foster care.

    Here is a slideshow of photographs taken during the Foster Care Symposium on May 11, 2012, hosted by the Ohio Attorney General's Office:

    Below are the remarks that Communications Chair Lisa Dickson shared on April 4, 2012, when she was invited to serve on a Panel of Experts during one of a series of Child Safety Summits held this year by Attorney General Mike DeWine:

    Good afternoon and thanks for being here. My name is Lisa Dickson, and I am here representing the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America and the Ohio Youth Advisory Board.

    Did you know that nationally, there are approximately 12 million former foster youth in the USA?

    Foster Care Alumni of America is a national organization made up of former foster youth (alumni) and our allies who share our mission.

    • We Connect by providing a lifelong community that foster care youth can never age out of 
    • We Transform by sharing our voices to make a positive difference
    • Our efforts are characterized by Hope and an a Sense of Urgency 
    • We believe that opportunities to improve outcomes for foster care youth continue to exist long after they leave foster care 
    As alumni of the system, we have had the time to look back, reflect on our experiences and learn from them.

    The current consumers of the foster care system are the youth of today. Here in Ohio, our state continues to invest in Youth Voice:
    • The Ohio Youth Advisory Board, Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio, exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that effect all youth who have or will experience foster care. 
    • Members range from ages 14 – 24 
    • County Youth Advisory Boards have been established in Allen, Athens, Cuyahoga, Fairfield Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark, and Summit Counties 
    Now, let’s talk about why we are here today:

    • National measures of child welfare systems focus on how they measure up when it comes to Safety, Permanency and Well-Being 
    • Foster youth are being parented by a system – therefore, it’s important for state government officials and child welfare staff to recognize the role that they have been given as PARENTS 
    Child welfare systems tend to focus on where to place a child, where to put a child, where to house a child in the short-term – without always thinking in terms of that child’s long-term well-being.

    Whereas, as a former foster child and parent, from the moment that I was entrusted with my stepdaughters, I knew that this 7 year old and 9 year old would be adults one day – and everything I do needs to prepare them for that.

    One way we prepare our young people for adulthood is by empowering them. It is through empowerment that our young people learn that they are not victims – they are survivors. It is learning that they have a voice, that they are capable and responsible, that contributes to long-term resiliency.

    Ohio foster care youth and alumni are grateful that our voices have been included in Ohio child welfare decision-making since 2006. We have shared our voices in the aftermath of Marcus Fiesel and the Gravelles cases - - we even helped write post-Marcus Fiesel legislation.

    We are also grateful that the Ohio Attorney General is taking a good hard look at Child Safety. For a child to grow up to become an adult, and contributing person to society, that young person must first remain ALIVE. Therefore, we obviously care about and have concerns regarding premature reunification.

    Too often “success” is measured in numbers, and sometimes we don’t count the right numbers when it comes to the safety and well-being of children. For example, we might count how many foster children were reunified with their bio parents within a certain amount of time. But it is just as important to count how many of these young people re-enter foster care after reunification.

    Counting the right numbers MATTERS. To quote from a recent CCAI report, the Future for Foster Care: A Revolution for Change:
    • “True reform of the foster care system depends on whether we are willing to measure ‘what counts’ – and what counts are the life outcomes of youth both in and aging out of foster care” 
    • “The current system lacks crucial data on the life outcomes of youth in foster care.” 
    We need to count the right numbers. These numbers matter to agencies and influence decision-making because they are often tied to funding – but every foster child in Ohio matters as an individual. They are OUR children.

     They are also OUR children when it comes to being over-medicated. The Ohio Youth Advisory Board and Ohio chapter of FCAA would like to know more about how Ohio plans to comply with federal law re: overmedication of foster youth.

    A recent GAO Report indicated that hundreds of foster youth received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time.
    • We need to improve oversight and monitoring of psychotropic medications for children in foster care.
    • We need to address lack of trauma-informed care. 
    Before diagnosing any foster child with a label such as ADHD or RAD, the first thing to be considered is trauma and loss.

    We here in Ohio could learn much from the example of Washington State:
    Here in Ohio there is NO statewide mechanism for getting a second opinion on a diagnosis. No statewide mechanism that foster parents/caseworkers can use to advocate to reduce dosage level.

    In other states, state attorney generals have launched a full-scale investigation into these practices.

    Finally, we are grateful for the support of ODJFS Director Colbert and the Office of Families and Children for their ongoing communication and recent response to the Ohio YAB's Top Five Asks of the Department. We are particularly for the creation of two new positions, to serve as Transition Navigators.

    Our hope is that these two new staff members can provide outreach throughout the state in order to ensure greater consistency regarding independent living preparation and aftercare support. Once again, speaking as a stepmother, I have two daughters - I would never choose to prepare one and ignore the other. However, at this point, the level of preparation and support that young people are receiving continues to vary greatly by county -- and that needs to change.

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Foster Care Alumni Contributions to the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program (OCWTP)

    Lamar Graham's recent article for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program's Common Ground newsletter:

    Meet Foster Care Alumni Trainer Lamar Graham
    Lamar is currently serving a second year as an AmeriCorps member with Hands-On Central Ohio, where he is responsible for getting people excited about service and also recruiting volunteers for service projects. 

    We asked Lamar to give us some insight into what youth need to be prepared for independent living.

    What is one of your specific advocacy areas related to foster care?


    Can you give some examples of why this area needs reform?

    Many students finish high school with no idea of the career path they want to follow.

    I feel students should leave high school with at least four possible career options. They should know which careers require additional education, and understand the steps needed to be successful in the career they choose.

    If students have a clearer understanding of what they would like to accomplish after high school, they would save time and use financial aid more wisely.

    How can caseworkers/foster caregivers/adoptive parents better equip foster youth in this area?

    Each stakeholder listed above should understand their role clearly and know exactly how their role ties in with the success of foster youth.

    Caseworkers/foster caregivers/adoptive parents should coordinate a plan with the youth, outlining specific goals the youth may want to accomplish.  

    By scheduling regular meetings to discuss and monitor the youth's progress, many future challenges can be avoided.  

    What are some creative ideas regarding how this information might be shared in a workshop setting?

    I recommend the following: 

    1.  The training (or series of trainings) should start with a joint session with foster youth, caseworkers, foster caregivers/adoptive parents. 

    2.  Each "role" should then have their own session (foster youth, caseworker, foster caregivers/adoptive parents)

    3.  There should be rotation in which two groups are paired up and the third is by itself:

        -Youth will work alone, while foster caregivers /adoptive parents and caseworker work together
         -Caseworker will work alone, while youth and foster caregivers/adoptive parents work together
         -Foster caregivers /adoptive parents will work alone, while youth and caseworker work together 

    4.  Everyone comes back together for a large group session

    Lamar holds an Associate Degree in Business Management from Columbus State Community College and a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Management from Wilberforce University. Lamar's future plans include becoming a professional speaker, trainer, and coach to help people become the best person they can become.