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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."