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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Senate Caucus on Foster Youth recognizes and supports ACTION Ohio's efforts

A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee

Ten years ago this month, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I founded the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. We launched this caucus a decade ago to give voice to the thousands of young people in America who deserved a platform to break the silence on the challenges and success stories of foster care. This issue impacts every community in America.

Our caucus not only provides the platform, we encourage foster youth to participate and lead discussions on issues that matter most to them. It’s become a vital network for young people to connect with other youth in foster care and empowers them to share their ideas with researchers, advocates and lawmakers.

When I first got involved in foster care and adoption policy more than 20 years ago, I learned kids in foster care are the last ones to have a say in determining their future. If they are even asked at all. I learned older youth in foster care are brimming with innovative ideas to improve the system. And yet, they rarely had an opportunity to share those ideas with policymakers. When we launched the foster youth caucus in 2009, we made this a specific priority. Our mission was to ensure foster youth had a seat at the table.

Over the years, we’ve hosted discussions to consider barriers facing foster youth, including access to education, pervasive rates of homelessness and juvenile justice involvement, and substance abuse. We heard astounding stories of seemingly impossible success, as well as heartbreaking examples about things that are broken in the foster care system. The caucus invited stakeholders in the foster care system to learn about innovative programs working in communities across the country. We’ve followed up with researchers to understand why. But most importantly, we listened to the real experts on foster care: youth who have firsthand experience.

Listening directly to them has made a big impact on policy development and implementation. Time and again, foster kids tell us they want stability, a safe place to live, and a loving family. Many times, we heard testimonials from foster kids that if someone had just helped their parents, they might have avoided foster care in the first place. These conversations led to enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act. This federal law reforms the foster care system to focus on what keeps kids safely at home, rather than bringing them into foster care.

One of the challenges facing older teens who age-out of the system without reunification with their biological family or adoption is homelessness. Once again, we heard from foster youth to solve the problem.

In 2013, ACTION Ohio, a group of foster youth and foster care alumni began advocating for changes in housing policy to access federal housing assistance. Although HUD’s Family Unification Vouchers were previously available to youth who “aged out” of care, this group flagged flaws in the program. We collaborated and crafted solutions. These efforts led to the development of HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence Initiative and my introduction in 2017 with Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) of the bicameral Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. This legislation to make additional improvements to accessible housing for foster youth was reintroduced and is making its way through the 116th Congress.

In its first decade, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth flexed its influence and made a difference. In the 116th Congress, nearly one-third of the Senate is on board with 32 senators from both sides of the aisle. Even in divisive political times, there’s a chord of bipartisanship to help kids in foster care.

All children deserve a safe, permanent, loving home and consistent, caring adults to parent them. Society owes a debt of gratitude for all those who work to achieve this goal. Foster parents, caseworkers, court officials and youth advocates are a lifeline to vulnerable youth. I commend foster kids and teens for speaking up, demanding action, and fervently working to improve a system that in some cases failed them.

As a co-founder and current co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, I will continue listening and leading the way so foster youth are empowered to pursue their dreams like every child in America.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board endorses FSHO

Many thanks to the Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board for endorsing the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act:

  • "Brown and Grassley’s bill would offer a lifeline to former foster children who find themselves suddenly on their own and without the family support most young adults can count on."

  • "Currently they have to join long waiting lists for housing vouchers through a federal program, and many become homeless. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would make the vouchers available to aged-out foster youth on demand and in more communities."

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently being championed in the U.S. Senate.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Following up on meeting with ODJFS Director Kim Hall

Link to more photos

The three topics we discussed with with Director Kim Hall of ODJFS on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019 were:
1.) The need for every Ohio county to provide adequate independent living preparation for teens in foster care, as per state and federal law, and to utilize Chafee funding with a focus on improving outcomes for youth. We shared the negative impact that the “one worker” model has had on independent living preparation, and the desire to maintain IL departments/experts in every Ohio county. We also shared concerns that caseworkers and foster parents aren’t required to take specific training on resources to support foster youth transitioning into young adulthood.

When it comes to training requirements for foster parents and caseworkers, there is big push by foster parents to reduce training hours and move to more accessible training methods such as online. But our discussion was the first mention that Director Hall had heard regarding foster parents and caseworkers who serve teens not currently being required to taking trainings about available resources to help young people transition successfully to young adulthood.
2. The need for normalcy training and safety requirements for group homes and residential placements. Why is normalcy is included in Ohio Revised Code, but not Ohio Administrative Code? Could this be changed in order to translate the law (ORC) into rules that will actually positively impact procedure (OAC)?
3. Appreciation for the statewide Fostering Pathways to Success Conference, and desire to include foster care youth and alumni voice in conference planning. We also talked with her about FSHO and FYI vouchers.

Director Hall's helpful suggestions were that we:
1.) Email Director Kristi Burre's office all of the details we shared with her

2.) Each make the time to testify at one of the Foster Care Forums

3.) Find out how many Ohio counties have switched to the "one worker" model

4.) Reach out to PCSAO for support in sharing the FYI MOU with county directors

5.) Seek to identify one or more Ohio counties that is doing a great job with FYI vouchers, and partner with PCSAO to promote their work as a role model to other counties

(We are working on items 1, 3 and 4 this morning).
PS - We didn’t talk with Director Hall about the need for a Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office, because this project has been delegated to Director Kristi Burre’s office. But it would be a great topic to mention at the Foster Care Forums -- this was one of Governor DeWine’s campaign promises, but they still don’t have a timeline yet for when or how they will be rolling it out. Sometimes things need a squeaky wheel (like us) to get them to move forward.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jonathan Thomas - Testimony Template

My name is Jonathan Thomas, and I am a former foster youth who dedicates my time to train others.
I want to thank Governor DeWine for caring about foster care outcomes, and to thank the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council for hosting this series of forums.

I am here to talk with you today about the need to prepare young people for life after foster care, including providing them with emotional supports. I don't know if there are a lot of young adults who are actually ready to leave home when they turn 18. Even those who come from good, and stable homes often find themselves having to return for a number of reasons, such as finances, relationship trouble, stress, etc.

Now, imagine a young adult who has less than a strong foundation, or grasp of what should be as an adult, and imagine them going through the growing pains of becoming an adult completely alone. Imagine the choices they would make simply due to the fact that there isn't that strong continuity of parental relationship in their lives. This world is hard enough for people who have never been through the system, or even had to deal with the trauma that would have to be taking place in ones life to put them in the system. Imagine someone who has to pioneer through all that pain, rejection, and heartache. Many become strong, but many become broken. Their hearts, dreams, and soul stomped on so hard. It's hard to get such ambition back. That fire back. The will to live, to go on.
It is for this reason that I believe not only should there be adequate life skills preparation for foster youth, but there should be support on an emotional level as well. To give them what they might've never had. To fill in some holes that might keep them from turning to crime, suicide, drugs, alcohol, or other negative outcomes.

What I would like to see is better preparation and more emotional supports for young people in and from foster care. I have been helping out locally with this effort by supporting Better Together Toledo. This program brings together small groups of 6-8 volunteers who want to spend time every week with a young adult who has aged out of foster care. Over weekly dinners, these mentors listen to, encourage, and support that young person in achieving their goals for the future.

I believe there are opportunities to provide emotional support to young people during the time that they are in foster care as well. When I was in foster care, I needed a nurturing foster parent that would get their hands dirty, and really help me work through some of the trauma I experienced during my first 14 years of life. I needed a caseworker who cared about what I was going through, and connected with what I was feeling.

As a trainer myself who wants to train through the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, I believe that having more opportunities for former foster youth to train caseworkers and foster parents will lead to better outcomes.

I want to end by thanking those caseworkers and foster parents who take the time to demonstrate the emotional and nurturing characteristics that are necessary to help youth heal. Thanks to those who understand the magnitude of responsibility that comes with being overseers of those children's lives. Thank you for taking a personal interest. Thank you for not getting caught up in the technical information - and for remembering to feel for the child. To empathize.

Let's keep working together to make things better.

Jonathan Thomas and others share their voices at the NW Foster Care Forum

Residents give recommendations to state foster care council in Bowling Green
Brooks Sutherland, Toledo Blade,  December 9, 2019
Jonathan Thomas of Bowling Green was a foster-care child and knows what it’s like to feel helpless after turning 18 and “aging out” of a home that provided stability after early years of turmoil.
“I don’t know if there are a lot of young adults who are actually ready to leave home when they turn 18,” he said Monday at a state-organized foster care forum at the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. “Even those who come from good, stable homes, often find themselves having to return for a number of reasons, such as finances, relationship trouble, and stress.”
The need to prepare foster kids for “life after foster care,” was a recommendation given by Mr. Thomas Monday and was one of many heard by members of Gov. Mike DeWine’s newly-formed Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, which was created through executive action last month.
The council in November, announced 10 planned foster-care forums, and made its way to northwest Ohio Monday night to hear how it can improve the system that houses around 16,000 kids in the state.
Kristi Burre, the director of the office of Children Services Transformation, was appointed to co-chair the council alongside LeeAnne Cornyn, the director of the Governor’s office of children’s initiatives.
Ms. Burre said the forums are a listening period for the council before they write recommendations about how to improve the foster care system in January.
“The reason that we’re doing these forums is so the advisory council can travel all around the state and hear about local challenges from those who are involved or are impacted by our system,” she said. 
Ms. Burre said the governor has “charged” his cabinet members and executives with a mission to travel around the state and hear from stakeholders. 
“A lot of it just listening,” she said. “Truly listening and then doing something with the information.”
Recommendations Monday night in Bowling Green ranged from treating family caregivers the same as foster-care parents as far as funding goes, to setting up programs for post-foster care, to providing checks and balances for state and local departments of job and family services.
A packed house listened to public testimony, some speakers getting emotional as they described their experiences in the system. 
“My problems didn’t go away,” Tryshana Garraway, a University of Toledo student, said about life after foster care. “I still had mental health issues, I still had financial issues. I didn’t know how to do things.”
Shirley Wagner, a former foster-care child who became a foster-care parent, gave four recommendations to the council, urging them to “focus on stability,” and provide checks and balances on DFS.
“I think I speak for all of us here when I say there’s a problem with our foster-care system,” she said.
Tricia Cox, a foster-care parent of nine years, who estimates she’s had 58 kids come through her home, said the state needs provide additional resources to ensure kids get to have “normalcy,” as they develop.
“I have a 17-year-old boy who wants to drive, he cannot drive because the agency won’t take the responsibility for insuring him,” she said. “That’s not normal. He wants to drive. He wants to work. Things like that need to be looked at.”
Josh Martin, a veteran and former foster-care child, who sits on the board of directors of Community Teaching Homes, a Holland-based placement and behavioral health services organization, said he’s one of the few who “broke the cycle,” and encouraged the council to not waver on funding.
Jennifer King, a former foster-care child from Bryan, said there are problems all across DFS agencies and they should be addressed with some checks and balances, potentially from the sheriff’s offices.
“I am proposing an advisory council to oversee JFS,” she said. “They need some checks and balances. They are not accountable to anybody but themselves.”
The state will host three more regional forums before the end of the year and then three more in January.

Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act


Brown bill would help youth aging out of foster care
Tom Jackson, Sandusky Register, 12/7/2019

When Columbus resident CloƩ Cooper aged out of the foster care system when she turned 18, she intended to go to college. Instead, she became homeless.

“After months of couch-surfing from one bad area of town to another, I eventually had to drop out of school and went on to work a minimum wage job full time,” Cooper told reporters on a Wednesday conference call hosted by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Cooper, a student and employee at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, said it took years for her to earn enough money to go back to college.

Brown introduced Cooper to Ohio news reporters to dramatize the need for the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act,” a bipartisan bill to help young people who have aged out of the foster care system receive a public housing voucher for up to 24 months, allowing them to get on their feet while trying to start an independent adult life. 

Brown told the reporters that across the U.S., 20,000 people age out of foster care every year. Up to a third of them are homeless at some point, Brown said.

“You don’t have the same family safety net to fall back on others have,” Brown said.

Brown said the measure was approved in the House and is awaiting action in the Senate. It’s co-sponsored by a Republican, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Brown said he hopes that will aid the measure’s chances of passing the Senate, too.

More than 80 organizations have endorsed the bill, including the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, ACTION Ohio and the Ohio Children’s Alliance.

Brown’s bill comes as the number of children in foster care in Ohio has risen, largely in response to the ongoing drug addiction epidemic. Ohio had 16,185 children in foster care in October 2019, including 80 in Erie County, according to statistics on the website of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

That’s up from 12,511 young people in foster care in October 2009. Foster care cases rose in Erie County, too, spiking to more than 100 in 2014, but officials worked to bring the number down with a concerted effort to find permanent homes for children, reducing foster care cases to 74 by December 2018.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

2019 Central OH Thanksgiving Dinner

The Central Ohio Thanksgiving took place in Columbus on Sunday, Nov. 24th (link to photos). 

The event was held at the eStem Academy, 8579 Summit Road, Reynoldsburg OH 43068. Sponsors included: 
Reynoldsburg City Schools, including the Leo Club, National Council of Jewish Women: Columbus Section, Congregation Beth Tikvah Sisterhood, Covenant Presbyterian, FYAC, Andi Atwood, Cloe Cooper, Cece Norwood, IHS, Jaye Turner, Kristin Gilbert, Sean Reilly, Wendy’s, Ashley Williams and Bethany Workman.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (H.R. 4300) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by unanimous consent last night

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2019 SE Thanksgiving Dinner

The 2019 SE Ohio Thanksgiving took place in Athens on Sunday, Nov. 17th (link to photos)

The event was held at the Ohio University’s Grover Center. Sponsors included: Athens County CASA, Athens County Foster Parent Association, Ohio University, Precision Automotive, Kiser’s BBQ, Athens County Children Services and Fairfield County Children Services. 

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2019 SW Ohio Thanksgiving Dinner

The 2019 SW Ohio Thanksgiving took place in Cincinnati on Saturday, Nov. 16th (link to photos)

The event was held at Junior League of Cincinnati’s Columbia Center. Sponsors included: Junior League of Cincinnati, Peoples Church, Opportunities Knocking, and the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Senate version of Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is introduced

The Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act was introduced this week by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Senator Grassley is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Brown serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

The bill was introduced with no changes. The wording of this bill has been honed by foster youth for years, and they wanted to maintain its integrity.

1. Press Release
2. Thank you letter to Senator Brown
3. Thank you letter to Senator Grassley
4. Proponent testimony by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Sunday, November 3, 2019

2019 NE Ohio Thanksgiving Dinner

The 2019 Northeast Ohio Thanksgiving took place in Cleveland on November 2nd: (link to more photos)

This event was held at Saint Ignatius High School. Sponsors included: 
St. Ignatius High School, Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services, Junior League of Greater Cleveland, National Council of Jewish Women, Cleveland Section, Adoption Network Cleveland, Open Table, The Purple Project, Bessie’s Angels and My Very Own Blanket.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Op Ed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Young people enter our foster care system for many different reasons, but too many share a common story once they age out: They don’t have a stable home of their own.

One of our recent “Humans of HUD” spotlights here at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development features Adora, a young lady who was just a teenager when her mother died and her father returned to his home country. For Adora and her siblings, America was the only home they knew. But without their parents, they entered the foster care system and were shuffled from place to place. Imagine growing older and aging out of foster care, alone, without a home or any of the support young people need to set out on their own path. 

Each year, there are more than 20,000 young people with stories like Adora’s who age out of foster care. Shockingly, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare estimates that 25% of these young people will experience homelessness within four years. 

Recently, it was my personal and professional point of pride to announce a brand new initiative: Foster Youth to Independence, a collaborative effort to combat homelessness among at-risk youth by targeting housing assistance to young people leaving foster care. HUD’s new program allows local public housing authorities to request tenant protection vouchers for young adults who have recently left foster care without a home to go to.

It is complementary to FUP, our Family Unification Program, and has three main goals:

 ▪ It will address the lack of availability of housing vouchers to young people in communities without access to FUP resources. 

 ▪ It will prioritize resources to our nation’s at-risk youth. Currently, young people encounter significant barriers to accessing affordable housing resources, including the FUP program. For example, local welfare authorities often prioritize families at risk of homelessness over single, young adults. This contributes to the fact that early-age populations make up only about 5% of FUP housing voucher recipients.

 ▪ This program will further HUD’s goal of ending homelessness. No person should experience homelessness. Not only will this initiative provide foster youth with housing, but it will also provide them with the tools they need to become self-sufficient through supportive services they can access for up to three years. 

Stable housing lays the foundation for a stable family and, in turn, a stable life. This program will work with local authorities to direct housing assistance to the young people who need it most. For too long, foster youth have been forgotten when it comes to affordable housing. HUD is committed to changing that.  

I am proud of HUD’s many efforts to help set forgotten Americans onto a path to self-sufficiency. No matter the obstacles, no matter how difficult the beginnings, anyone can rise to their potential in the land of the free. And at HUD, we are committed to making that dream a reality for all of America’s vulnerable — our young people included.

~ Ben Carson is secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Friday, September 6, 2019

2019 FSHO Press Event with Representative Turner

Link to more photos.

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Congressman Mike Turner announced new legislation Friday that aims to keep foster kids off the streets.

The new program, which will be run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will provide housing vouchers to teens aging out of the foster care system.

“Foster care youth need to be provided assistance and their care is critical,” said Rep. Turner. “We’re very excited about this response from HUD because it also represents the administration will be having support for this bill as it goes forward, and will have an opportunity on a demonstration project to see real results of what can happen when we ensure the safety of foster youth.”

He went on to say he believes the bill will have bipartisan support.

Link to news article with video.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Technical Details About FYI Housing Vouchers

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What is the Foster Youth Independence Program (FYI)?
Since 2013, the FSHO Coalition, led by ACTION Ohio, has worked in partnership with the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW), elected officials including foster youth champions, Reps. Turner and Bass, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to study how to knit existing federal programs together to eliminate the gaps through which foster youth fall into homelessness.
The FSHO Coalition discovered that the best way to eliminate gaps is to synchronize existing programs such as HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP), with the predictable nature of emancipation (the date a young person leaves state custody). FYI allows all local Public Housing Authorities to provide an “on demand” FUP voucher that is timed with a young person’s emancipation from foster care. In this way, existing federal resources, can be knitted together and used as a platform for economic success.
What is the Family Unification Program?
HUD’s Family Unification Program (FUP) is the only national housing program aimed at preventing family separation due to homelessness and easing the transition to adulthood for aging-out youth. HUD provides Housing Choice Vouchers (“Section 8”) to local public housing authorities (PHAs) who apply to administer the program. These PHAs are then required to work in partnership with the local public child welfare agency to identify youth and families to refer to the program. FUP has existed since 1990 for families and youth were added as an eligible population in 2000. Unlike families, young people participating in FUP receive vouchers that are time-limited to three years.
The impact of this relatively small program is extraordinary. Each year more than 75,000 children live in safe, affordable housing and avoid out-of-home placement and homelessness due to FUP. Since youth were added in the year 2000, more than 5,000 young people have received housing vouchers and their own, independent apartment upon leaving foster care.
How does FYI change FUP for youth?
Currently, FUP vouchers for youth come from an unpredictable pool of funding and are only administered by certain PHAs. FYI will address this challenge in two ways. It will provide a method for national consistency by allowing all PHAs to administer FUP. FYI will also make it possible to issue youth vouchers on demand, by changing the funding source to a flexible but little-known account at HUD called the Tenant Protection Account. Vouchers (TPVs) from this account can be issued “on demand” at the discretion of the HUD Secretary. To learn more about TPVs visit www.
Who is eligible?
  • The PCWA will certify that the youth is at least 18 years old and not more than 24 years old (has not reached his/her 25th birthday), that he/she left foster care at age 16 or older or will leave foster care within 90 days, in accordance with a transition plan, and is homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • Keep in mind that a housing choice voucher requires that an individual sign a legal document called a lease with a private landlord.
  • Thus, the FYI Coalition recommends and research by the University of Denver indicates that young people who are participating in extended foster care or Chafee Independent Living Services, are close to reaching their 21st birthday, and who participate in supervised independent living placements are the best candidates for referral.
How does a child welfare agency make a referral?
  1. First, all public child welfare agencies (PCWAs) should establish a point of contact at their local PHA and begin to develop a relationship with their peer at that organization.
  2. Next, PCWAs use a variety of independent living funding sources to prepare young people who are likely to reach adulthood in state care.
  3. As young people move along this continuum of services, PCWA staff should monitor if a young person is at risk of homelessness and interested in the stability of renting their own apartment.
  4. If it is the case that a young person will not be able to afford to rent an apartment without a government subsidy then, the PCWA staff will notify their peer at the local PHA about three to six months prior to emancipation (in most states this is just before age 21) that the young person is eligible for and interested in a FUP voucher.
  5. PCWAs should also begin to forecast and predict how many young people will need vouchers within their caseload so that they can request vouchers in batches from their local PHA.
D.) How many young people will this program serve annually?
  • The National Youth in Transition Database report indicates that 20% of 19-year-old alumni (1,576) and 28% of 21-year-old alumni (1,991) experience homelessness.
  • Given these figures, the FSHO Coalition estimates that approximately 2,000 youth people who are leaving foster care could benefit from FYI/FUP for youth.
  • PCWAs must begin to work with their local homeless service providers and identify young people who can be brought back into the fold of the public child welfare system and provided with appropriate services to prepare for access to independent apartments through FYI/FUP.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Housing Vouchers After Foster Care

Update from John Kelly, of the Chronicle of Social Change, July 25, 2019. Earlier this year, we reported on the case made by current and former foster youths to use existing authority at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to connect youth aging out of care with housing supports. The Chronicle of Social Change has learned that, after a thorough review of the policy by HUD’s general counsel, the agency is set this week to approve this and notify thousands of public housing authorities. HUD has yet to publicly comment on these developments. But an event is being planned for this Friday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which Secretary Ben Carson will announce the Foster Youth to Independence initiative. “I truly believe that in order to improve outcomes for our youth, our people who make the decisions have to be willing and able to listen to the population they are serving,” said Jamole Callahan, one of the former foster youths who helped campaign for the policy. “This solution … was a simple fix. This is another step towards ending youth homelessness." The plan was pitched to HUD by Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition, whose members met in early March with HUD Secretary Ben Carson to lay out a plan for a $20 million voucher program. Under that plan, HUD would use an existing pot of money – a federal rental assistance account – to pay for the vouchers. “We see kids attempt post-secondary and fail just because they don’t have housing,” said Callahan, who helps lead Foster Action Ohio, in an April interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “They have to work to maintain an apartment, then school becomes the background. And it becomes all about survival.” As per this plan which was crafted by Ohio foster care youth and alumni: A child welfare agency would file paperwork with HUD for what’s called a Family Unification Voucher in the months before a youth aged out. That youth would be tied into HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Support program as well, which means the voucher could last up to five years. After a youth’s voucher is up, it is then “recycled” back to HUD to be used for another youth. HUD, after reviewing the argument, agreed it is allowable under existing authority and is moving forward on it. The agency did not cap the voucher availability either, which means the total spending on foster youths could exceed $20 million. The need for housing supports for foster youth is critical. Anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 youth age out of care each year in America, and 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent. In a recent study based on interviews with 215 young adults who experienced unaccompanied homelessness as youths, foster care was identified as a major factor. Ninety-four out of the 215 interviewees had a history in foster care; of that group of 94, nearly half said entrance into foster care was the “beginning of their housing instability.” Advocates for the plan are still pursuing federal legislation to codify it into law. The FSHO Act would guarantee a housing voucher starting from emancipation through age 25 for any youth aging out of foster care who could demonstrate the need for a subsidy. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.).

Friday, June 28, 2019

Second Ohio Medicaid Meeting

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Link to more photos.

We were honored to participate in our second meeting with the Ohio Medicaid Director's Office.

Participants included:
  • Vice President Samantha Dillon of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board
  • Lisa Dickson of ACTION Ohio and the OHIO Youth Advisory Board
  • Nicole Chinn of ACTION Ohio and the CSCC Scholar Network
  • Cloe Cooper, Katrina de los Santos and Brett Welsch of the CSCC Scholar Network
  • Sonja Nelson, Alex Romstedt, Drew May and Bethany Hahn of CMHA
Our meeting focused on:
  1. Ohio Medicaid's continued efforts and dedication to overcome access barriers for foster care youth and alumni
  2. Concerns about a specific residential facility
  3. Updates regarding our work to map out a service coordination model and the division of tasks between Service Coordinator and the two RA/Peer Advisors for Scholar House 3

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Presentation at Congregation Beth Tikvah

Lisa Dickson of ACTION Ohio was honored to present on Sunday, June 23, 2019 for the Central Ohio Women of Reform Judaism’s Tzedakah Collective.

This local group of philanthropists has been in existence for six years. Their mission is to work together to explore unmet needs in their local community and the world, and to pool together resources to help. The focus of their 2019 priorities is on programs that restore human dignity.

ACTION Ohio has been partnering for years with the National Council of Jewish Women: Columbus Section, when it comes to our annual Central Ohio Thanksgiving dinners for foster care teens and alumni. We deeply appreciated this opportunity to share about the foster care experience, and ways that community members can help support improved outcomes for young people in and from foster care.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

ACTION Ohio Letters of Support

These two Acts complement one another, and if both of them are passed into federal law, this will lead to better post-secondary outcomes for foster and homeless youth:

1.) Letter of Support for Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019 (S.789)

2.) Letter of Support for Fostering Success in Higher Education Act (S. 1650)

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown supports the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019 (S.789/H.R.1724).

Ohio Senator Rob Portman supports the Fostering Success in Higher Education Act (S. 1650).

We are encouraging them to each support one another's bill, because these two bills are very complementary of one another:

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Scholar House III... the work continues!

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Deeply grateful for the ongoing commitment of CMHA to bring Scholar House 3 from vision to reality.

Link to more photos.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Federal Legislative Update

Ohio foster care youth and alumni advocates made AMAZING federal legislative progress this week...

1.) Senator Rob Portman is endorsing the “Improving Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act” as per our request.

2.) Senator Sherrod Brown is endorsing the “Fostering Success in Higher Education Act” as per our request (which will improve higher ed outcomes for foster AND homeless populations)

And last of all.... drumroll please...

3.) When it comes to the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which was literally written by Ohio foster care youth, the federal government is currently considering a $20 million allocation of “on-demand” housing vouchers for young people throughout the nation who are aging out of foster care.

All of this has happened in the span of two days, and we are currently working on follow up


Friday, May 17, 2019

2019 Meeting with Director of Child Welfare Transformation

Link to more photos.

On Friday, May 17, we had an 10:30 a.m. meeting at CSCC with Director of Child Welfare Transformation Kristi Burre.

Our meeting focused on three topics:  
1. ) Establishing a statewide foster care Ombudsman Office, and the importance of including foster youth voice and input on the process of designing this resource.

2.) Normalcy training and safety requirements for group homes and residential placements.

3.) Appreciation for the statewide Fostering Pathways to Success Conference, and desire to include foster care youth and alumni voice in future conference planning.

Participants included: Doris Edelmann, Jamole Callahan, Lisa Dickson, Nikki Chinn, Stevie Hayslip, Kyajah Rodriguez, Katana Waters, Juliana Barton, Ashley Marie Williams, Katrina De Los Santos, and Brett Welsch.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Next Steps from Meeting with Star House

Jill Gorz and Naima Illmi

The following brainstorming ideas came up during the recent meeting:

  1. How can Ohio Colleges/Universities/Tech Schools better screen for former foster and/or homeless youth?
  2.  How can available supports on Ohio campuses be woven together and also publicized to these at-need students?
  3.  How can we map out the narrative to those in power about the importance of not just enrolling students of promise who lack family support, but also supporting their continued success in college (aka: retention?) 
We could start by inviting representatives from the Offices of Diversity and Inclusion (and perhaps other departments as well) to come together for a brainstorming roundtable to discuss.

Possible Dates: (it would be great to finalize a date and location ASAP - maybe CSCC?)
- Friday July 26
- Friday Aug. 9
- Friday Aug. 23
- Friday, Sept. 6
- Friday, Sept 20

Draft Attendee List: (we can keep adding to it) 

  1. Ohio Department of Higher Education (formerly known as the Ohio Board of Regents) 
  2.  Randy Gardner, Chancellor of the Department of Higher Education
  3. Capital University Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  4. Columbus State Scholar Network
  5. OSU Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  6. OSU Bell National Resource Center
  7. Franklin University  
  8. CCAD 
  9. Otterbein  
  10. Wright State ISSN 
  11. Reach Scholars at Tri-C 
  12. Reach program at Ohio University 
  13. Reach program at Central State 
  14. Star House 
  15. ACTION Ohio 
  16. Starfish Alliance 
  17. Ashon McKenzie from the Children's Defense Fund of Ohio 
  18. My Place 
  19. Huckleberry House YOP Shop 
  20. (we can keep adding to this list as needed) 
 Draft Agenda: 
*If this is a full-day event, we can include a break for "Lunch, on Your Own"

  1. Welcome and Purpose 
  2. Overview 
  3. Speakers/Panel (representing both professional and "lived experience" expertise) 
  4. Group Work by Tables 
  5. Reporting out 
  6. Next Steps for Implementation - Workgroups, Timelines 
Supplies Will Include: 

  1. Packets for participants 
  2. Flip Charts for each table
  3. List of questions for each table

Presentation for Covenant Presbyterian Women

On Wednesday, May 8, 11:30am, Lisa Dickson, a foster care alumni and representative of ACTION Ohio (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now), talked about what happens when youth age out of the foster care system.

Lisa was deeply impressed by the commitment of Covenant Presbyterian Women to work on social justice issues. Their efforts to date have positively impacted multiple populations, including homeless youth and adults, human trafficking victims, youth victims of abuse, and those suffering from emotional trauma.

Looking forward to building an ongoing relationship with these passionate leaders, to seek to improve outcomes for Central Ohio young people in and from foster care...

Friday, April 19, 2019

2019 Ohio Medicaid Director Meeting

Click to enlarge photo

Link to more photos

We were honored to meet with Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran on Friday, April 19, 2019.

Participants included:
  • Sonja Nelson and Alex Romstedt of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
  • Katana Waters and Cloe Cooper of the CSCC Scholar Network
  • Samantha Dillon, Vice President of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board
  • ACTION Ohio members: Jessica Camargo and Lisa Dickson
  • Alumni advocate Laquita Howell and her son Ralph 

Our discussion focused on:
  1. Barriers to Medicaid access for former foster youth, and proposed solutions to address this perennial problem
  2. The need for a support staff person for Scholar House III
We also suggested that the state of Ohio could create a review panel of medical professionals, including trauma-informed child psychiatrists, to address questions and concerns regarding foster care children and teens and whether the treatment and medications they are prescribed are clinically appropriate.

Friday, April 5, 2019

2019 Pathways conference

Link to more photos.

Quotes from youth evaluations of the OHIO YAB workshop:

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

FSHO Coalition Plan is national news!!!

Trump Administration Reviewing Plan for Housing Support to Any Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

HUD Secretary Ben Carson (center) met with a coalition of advocates and former foster youths about a new plan for public housing support after foster care. Photo courtesy of iFoster.
Jamole Callahan is turning 40 this year. He’s carved out a successful career in advocacy and motivational speaking (his Twitter handle is @MrMotivator). But in college, as a youth who had aged out of foster care, his path was far from stable.
My issue after aging out was there was just nowhere for me to go when school went on break,” Callahan said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.
During those college breaks in Ohio, he stayed with classmates, or sometimes with a friend of his high school science teacher. But many teens lack such options.
“We see kids attempt postsecondary and fail just because they don’t have housing,” Callahan said. “They have to work to maintain an apartment, then school becomes the background. And it becomes all about survival.”
There are some competing ideas about how best to legislate new federal support for housing to help youth after they exit foster care. But a group of housing advocates and former foster youths recently met with top federal housing officials to make the case that there’s no need to wait for Congress.
A group called the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition — which includes Callahan’s youth-led ACTION Ohio and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare — met in early March with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to lay out a plan for a $20 million voucher program aimed at preventing homelessness for transition age foster youth. Under that plan, HUD would use an existing pot of money to provide on-demand vouchers and assistance for foster youth who needed stable housing.”
HUD is currently reviewing the proposal to determine the agency’s authority to act on it. If the plan moves forward, it could be a game changer for thousands of teens and young adults who age out of foster care each year.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. After decades of reforms aimed at preventing youth from becoming adults in foster care, or ending up on the street when it happens, the number of youth who age out of the system has stubbornly ranged from 20,000 to 25,000 per year.
And research shows that the percentage of foster youth who end up experiencing homelessness is still outrageously high — 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent.
“They are doing something that could mean a seismic shift in housing and child welfare policy,” said Ruth Anne White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare.
Following is a breakdown of how the plan would work.

The Programs

Through its Tenant Protection Fund, HUD is given money to provide Tenant Protection Vouchers. In general, these vouchers are designed to provide rent support to people when changing circumstances threaten to leave them homeless. Surely, one such circumstance would be a person aging out of foster care at age 18 or older, with no affordable housing option on the horizon.
There are several different types of Tenant Protection Vouchers that target different populations. One is called the Family Unification Program (FUP) voucher, which can be used for two child welfare-related groups:
  • Families for whom a lack of housing portends a foster care removal or problems reunifying with a child in foster care.
  • Youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who lack adequate housing as they age out of foster care.
Alongside the FUP voucher is the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which provides assistance aimed at helping public housing residents increase their earned income and decrease reliance on the social safety net. This support includes job training, child care, transportation subsidies and financial literacy classes.
The FUP voucher lasts for three years. But continued FSS participation allows a FUP voucher recipient to receive an additional two years of support, so pairing the two could mean post-foster care housing support can last for up to five years.
Under the plan pitched to HUD by the advocates, a child welfare agency would file FUP paperwork in the year leading up a youth’s emancipation from foster care – whether that occurred at age 18, 21 or some point in between. HUD would issue the FUP voucher, and the local public housing authority would administer both the voucher and the FSS services.
It is worth noting here that currently, most public housing authorities do not offer FUP vouchers. More on that later, because the coalition’s plan would negate that barrier.

The Money

So that’s the structure that can be used to support youths aging out of foster care. But is there money available to fund the vouchers and the employment-related services? Apparently yes — the advocates who met with Carson argue that there’s a fund at HUD that can be tapped to jumpstart this.
FUP has had an up-and-down ride when it comes to funding, White said. It has been an allowable version of the Tenant Protection Vouchers since 1990, and there was a regular carve-out for it until about 2002, after which it faded out of the annual appropriations process.
A line item for FUP resurfaced in fiscal 2008, written into appropriations that year by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Kit Bond (R-Kansas). The two wrote in instructions for HUD to spend $20 million on FUP. More recent allocations for FUP have ranged from $10 million in 2017 to $20 million in 2018.
But the coalition told HUD officials that there is a bigger bank of unspent HUD funds that could be used to create a dedicated FUP youth program. The congressional justifications for President Trump’s 2019 budget noted $133.2 million in carryover funds in the area of “rental assistance.”
Nearly all of that money is from the Tenant Protection Fund, where FUP lives. It is held in reserve at the moment for housing complexes affected by demolition or expiring affordable housing contracts, and to help situate some people in the federal witness protection program. The FSHO Coalition asked for $20 million out of this contingency fund to be dedicated for FUP youth.

The Renewal

The most critical piece of the advocates’ plan is a change in the way that FUP vouchers are made available to youth.
Currently, FUP’s youth vouchers are awarded in blocks through a competitive process where public housing agencies are the applicants. This, White said, is an inefficient way to get at a finite group of youth who are flung throughout the country. There are thousands of housing authorities, and only the winners would receive vouchers.
In a place where the demand by foster youths is low, or a housing agency is bad at connecting with child welfare agencies, those vouchers might sit idle. And elsewhere, foster youths who might badly need the help wouldn’t get vouchers because they were awarded to the nearby agency.
Other HUD voucher programs are processed on-demand, meaning that a single family or person applies and is considered for an available slot. This centralizes the approval process to HUD, removing the local housing authorities and their individual store of vouchers from the equation.
“Converting to an on-demand process is key,” White said, “because youth continue to be in purgatory for pilot projects. We appreciate all the efforts to build housing around the country for youth – but 40 new units in Cincinnati won’t help the youth in Athens. This complements those efforts.”
The result is that most areas of the country end up with no FUP vouchers, and among the public housing authorities that do offer them, most of the action goes to families, and not foster youth. A 2014 study found that just 91 of the 195 FUP programs served foster youth, and among those 91 programs, only a third of the FUP vouchers went to foster youths.
“The most common reason [public housing authorities] cited for not serving any youth was a lack of referrals,” said the study. “The lack of youth referrals likely did not arise from lack of demand.”
Converting FUP’s foster youth vouchers to an on-demand process would solve that, and allow child welfare agencies to deal directly with HUD in preparing for these teens to age out of foster care and into stable housing for up to five years. And when a particular youth had completed the FUP-FSS program, that voucher would recycle back to HUD to be used for the next youth.

What Comes Next

The FSHO Coalition sat down with HUD Secretary Carson on March 4 to lay out what they believed to be an actionable plan that the agency could start setting up without any help from Congress.
Carson was engaged in his meeting on the plan, said Callahan of ACTION Ohio. “He gets it, he does. He was very intrigued about the info we had, and had questions about where the data came from.”
That was hardly the first or last meeting with HUD the coalition has had. Callahan said they have been lobbying HUD and Congress for seven years, and have developed allies there. Danielle Bastarache, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for policy programs, has “become a champion for this,” Callahan said.
White, of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, said that HUD officials have been supportive of the plan. The agency sent officials with her to a meeting this month at the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees child welfare policy and funding.
“So they hoofed it over when we had the strategy meeting about it,” White said. “I feel like they wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t want to move forward.”
HUD officials declined to comment for this story, but a spokesman for the agency said the proposal is being reviewed by its Office of General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer.
There is also the matter of legislation to permanently embed this plan into law. The coalition that met with HUD had originally conceived of this plan in a 2018 bill – called the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Act, which would guarantee a housing voucher starting from emancipation through age 25 for any youth aging out of foster care who could demonstrate the need for a subsidy.
The bill — sponsored in the House by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and in the Senate by several members of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth — ran up against some opposition in the previous Congress because it included a work requirement. That requirement has since been removed, and White said that the group has also garnered the support of House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
If HUD moves forward on its own authority, passing the FSHO Act mostly becomes an exercise in codifying this plan. It would establish the foster youth voucher as a distinct program within FUP that is to be carried out using an on-demand process.
“If Carson signed a memorandum today, that could go out today,” said Callahan. “But at the turn of a new administration, that could go away.”
An online petition circulated to support the FSHO bill has more than 54,000 signatures.
If it all comes together, the plan could ensure a key stabilizing factor for one of the most likely groups in the nation to end up on the streets.
“The child welfare system knows when a kid will be terminated,” Callahan said. “Now we can make sure there’s a voucher anywhere in the country for them to provide assistance.”