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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.