Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's My Life conference for youth aging out of foster care

I apologize if my blog entries have been less frequent... I have been preparing to attend and assist with an upcoming conference in Seattle...

I vividly remember my entry into the adult world. It was the summer of 1989. I had been living in a group home, and the director's son had crept into my room, late in the night, and violated me. When I spoke to the director about what had happened, his primary concern was liability. He sent his son to the military, and kicked me out of the group home.

I was sixteen years old. I had just been raped. Now, I didn't know where I was going to live. I felt like I was being punished for not being strong enough to defend myself against what was happening to me.

In one of the most supreme examples of divine providence of my life, I ended up starting college that fall. A sixty-year-old woman whom I had known in my childhood agreed to be my temporary guardian. The following year, I was legally emancipated and moved into my first apartment.

I was book-smart and life-dumb. I didn't know how to cook. The food at the group had just been delivered to us, mysteriously, like manna from above. I didn't know how to budget, nor how to drive. Not to mention the emotional baggage that I was carrying around with me.

It was a long journey from where I was back then to the person I am today. For two weeks, I was homeless. For eight years, I was afraid to date. I often despaired of ever having a family of my own.

Now, I have a husband and two stepdaughters. Would you like to see them? Please visit www.sunshinegirlonarainyday.com or www.nofearinlove.com

My husband is a songwriter. Would you like to hear his music? Please visit www.nathansbrain.com

I went from a place of being unwanted to being sheltered and needed and loved. I achieved my college and graduate level degree. At this time, I am incredibly happy with my life.

And yet...

I worry about current foster children, and people who have aged out of care. Why must the journey be so difficult and treacherous? Couldn't we do something to make the path easier for teens aging out of foster care to travel?

That's why I'm so excited about volunteering to assist with the fourth annual "It's My Life" conference. Because its purpose is to assist youth who are transitioning from foster care to adulthood. I promise to share a full report when I get back!

For more information, please visit:
http://www.casey.org/Resources/Projects/ItsMyLife/

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Update on Clark County

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Online newscast on foster children & antipsychotic drug

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?source=RSS&attr=CBSNewsVideo_2104407&channel=i_video&id=2104407n

With the link above, you can view Byron Pitt's interview with Gwen Olsen, a pharmaceutical representive who has worked in the foster care system as a CASA. She was familiar with the side effects and dangers of these products, and therefore was greatly concerned.

Olsen reports that children ages 2, 3 4 and 5 years old are receiving major antipsychotic drugs... often for "off-label" indications such as sleep disorders or behavioral disorders.

Young children are three times as likely as adults to have adverse results to psychotropic drugs. They cannot metabolize or eliminate the drugs, so these drugs become neurotoxic in their system, and pass through the blood-brain barrier.

Long-term clinical data indicates that "artificial behavioral improvements" deminish over time. In fact, children often manifest symptoms from previous drugs.

When psychotropic drugs become neurotoxic, physicians should withdraw drugs -- not add another drug.

Olsen alleges that prescriptions are motivated in part by financial gains by the pharmaceutical industry.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oh, Kentucky, when will you ever learn?

To the staff in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services,

You are just not getting it. Please let me spell this out to you in the simplest of terms.

Adoption = good.
Separating children from their biological families unnecessarily = bad.

This is not just about your quotas. Yes, we all know that Kentucky is under pressure to increase the number of children in adoption. We know that your goal is to increase the number of adoptions each year.

And, we also know that financial incentives are involved. After the number of statewide adoptions increased from 384 in 1999 to 902 in 2005, Kentucky received $1 million in bonus money.

And yet, putting as many babies as possible on the fast track to adoption isn't the point.

Step back for a moment and think about the purpose of adoption. Aren't we trying to avoid older children languishing for years in foster care? To keep foster teens from aging out of the system and facing the adult world completely on their own? I can't recall that getting babies and two-year-olds adopted has constituted a problem.

For a recent example, look at two-year-old Dae'Kuavion Perry. His mother died before his father could establish paternity. His father wants him. His aunt wants him.

You want to give Dae'Kuavion to strangers. Why? Because his father made a mistake four years ago and has been clean ever since? Court records and drug tests prove that father Tim Mabson has made every effort to turn his life around.

If you won't give Dae'Kuavion to his father, why not to his aunt? His aunt is a foster mother. She has adopted two foster children. How could she not be qualified to provide foster care to her own nephew?

Sources
Kentucky. Children's Voice. Washington: Sept. / Oct. 2006, Vol. 15, Issue 5, pg. 10.
Not family-friendly: State too quick to separate child from relatives. Lexington Herald-Leader, Editorial, Oct. 3, 2006.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Children's Coalition: Bail Set at $250K for Foster Mother Melanie Ochs

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ohio pilot chapter of FCAA

One of the wonderful things about the chapter designee selection process of Foster Care Alumni of America is that pilot chapters were chosen from states whose alumni groups were in various states of development.

In my state, we will be building our chapter from the grassroots level.

When I read about the success of the first outreach event in Arizona (200 people), I felt overjoyed at the size of their turnout – and a bit intimidated.

I recognized that the size and success of their first endeavor was rooted in years of time and effort invested by members of this group, such as partnerships and relationships built by In My Shoes.

How could we emulate their efforts in Ohio? I contacted two helpful and knowledgeable Arizona resources to ask for their insights. They shared practical advice on how to partner with child welfare professionals by coming alongside of them, in order to open doors for future collaboration.

In Ohio, FCAA chapter designees have experienced challenges in our efforts to connect and transform.

Ohio has 88 diverse counties, with no statewide safety net for people in and from foster care.

In the past year, the Ohio foster care system has faced numerous challenges. The murder of an autistic boy at the hands of his foster parents has led to intense scrutiny of one county’s foster care system. Another county has been audited and accused of misuse of federal funds. A third county received a grievance from the local NAACP chapter, due to racial disparities in foster care.

Ohio Chapter Designees of FCAA benefited greatly from national membership director Misty Stenslie’s visit this week, and were reminded that Ohio’s strengths and opportunities are greater than the challenges that we face.

New partnering agencies:
1.) Young Adult Community Development is a direct service organization, led by an alumna of foster care.

2.) The Public Children Services Association of Ohio has recently established a Founder’s Group of foster youth from across the state.

3.) Lighthouse Youth Services is in touch with many of their alumni, who often have a passion to share their voice and positively impact the foster care system.

4.) Youth Advocate Services has begun holding meetings of foster care alumni in an "ethics committee" led by Heidi Evans.

In three days, the Ohio pilot site has increased its membership, added to the list of its partnering agencies and decided upon our first two tangible goals.

Alumni and allies in Ohio will:
1.) Create a “foster yellow pages” of resources throughout the state.

2.) Design trainings for foster parents and/or biological parents, based upon alumni insight.

Foster Yellow Pages
This idea was first suggested by Gayle Loyola.

This idea has multiple benefits:
- Connecting foster care youth/alumni with resources
- Promoting the services of child welfare agencies
- Assisting foster parents/youth/alumni seeking resources
- Identifying gaps in services.

Ohio allies and alumni of foster care will undoubtedly offer valuable insights.

Meanwhile, as chapter designee of Ohio, I feel much less alone. My outreach efforts up until this point were less successful in terms of generating a response -- and the leadership of the pilot chapter of FCAA in Ohio cannot rest on one person's shoulders.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Foster issues in Ohio

1.) Recent articles in Ohio decry the lack of information-sharing:
- Biological parents are not allowed to see their case file, and thereby know the specific charges that are being leveled against them.

- Foster parents are not being given medical information about the youth in their care. As a result, foster youth have received multiple vaccinations.

- Lack of information sharing between agencies has led to poor (and sometimes deadly) placements for children.

2.) Butler County task force:
- In the aftermath of the murder of Marcus, an autistic foster child, a task force has been assembled to reexamine Butler County's independent foster care board.

- Their report is due on Dec. 11, 2006.

- This report will make recommendations as to whether this board should be:
a.) folded into the Ohio Department of Family Services
b.) privatized
or c.) continue as an independent board

3.) Columbus NAACP files grievance regarding foster care because children of color are overrepresented in the foster care system.

As a response, the following actions are being taken:
- Training social workers in the cultural values of different colors
- Distribution of multilingual CPS literature
- Recruiting caseworkers from black universities

4.) The Ohio welfare reserves currently stand at $893 million.
- This is higher than any other state.
- Meanwhile, Cleveland has been described as being "the poorest big city in America."

Although Ohio received federal funding to support kinship care, for example, time spent planning how to implement the program, and limitations on eligibility have led to this funding remaining largely unspent.

For these, and many other reasons, unspent welfare funds are a big concern.

5.) Need for increased foster and post-adoptive monitoring
- A couple in Clark County severely abused their six adopted children.
- A widow in Butler County had six adopted and five foster youth, whom she reportedly used as indentured servants.

To quote a West Chester foster child, "They need to examine the foster parents a lot better before they pass them off as foster parents... Every single foster system should have a caseworker come by at least once a week. Bad things happen real fast."

This young man and his sister had both been severely abused in his foster placement -- but, despite the fact that his foster father confessed, charges were never pressed against him.

More in-depth and ongoing checks on foster parents are needed, due to recent discoveries of licensed (and even awarded) foster parents with histories of theft, domestic violence, prison and sexual abuse.

Sources
Brooks, Candice. Foster care investigation big job. Hamilton Journal, Sept. 29, 2006, pg. A2.
Grieco, Lou. Boy's death spurring changes in foster care. Dayton Daily News, Sept. 22, 2006.
Ludlow, Randy. Accused couple: Authorities unsure why no one saw child abuse. Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 24, 2006, News pg. 1A.
McGurk, Margaret. Foster agencies hide behind veil of secrecy. Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 1, 2006, pg. 1B.
McLaughlin, Sheila. Agency overlooked foster care dangers. Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 24, 2006.
Program to help kids gets slow start. Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 26, 2006, News pg. 4D.
Pyle, Encarnacion. Addressing racial inequities in foster care. Columbus Dispatch, Sept, 29, 2006.
Suchetka, Diana. Millions for Ohio's needy unspent: Money reserved for foster care of children by relatives, family, friends. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 25, 2006.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Strengthening state oversight over pyschotropic drug prescriptions for foster youth

States should diligently monitor the usage of psychotropic medication

In 2003, the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council had conducted a two-year investigation of 1,180 foster children, and found that over 50% had been presribed mind-altering drugs. This included 17 preschoolers.

These drugs had not been approved by the FDA for use by children.

At the time, Florida's Medicaid office was surprised by the number of children who were prescribed psychotropic medications without a psychiatric diagnosis.

- 44% of foster youth had not been seen by a doctor.

- 38% of the children studied were given drugs without signed consent from a parent, guardian or judge, as state law requires.

- 89% of foster children on psychotropic drugs had no records in their file to show they were being medically monitored.

Richard Wexler, head of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. commented, "This is child abuse on a grand scale. It's obvious that DCF still hasn't learned to just say no to drugs.''

Florida legislators passed a law over a year ago, to curb the usage of psychotropic drugs by Florida foster children.

Yet today , according to the Miami Herald, state welfare officials still do not have an accurate list of foster youth who are currently being given such drugs.

Patricia Badland, head of Florida's family safety program, recently reported that Florida caseworkers have failed to monitor foster youth who have been prescribed anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and other drugs designed to combat mental illness. Most of these drugs have never been tested on children.

Badland is particularly concerned about children under the age of six years old, who have been prescribed "a psychiatric cocktail" of drugs.

Sources
Miller, Carol Marbin. Mind-altering drugs given to some babies in DCF's Miami Herald, Sept 17, 2002 p. A-1
Miller, Carol Marbin. No list of kids on mood drugs. Miami Herald, Sept. 23, 2006, Metro pg. 1B.

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Strengthening the oversight of foster care

I linked to FosterAbba in a recent posting, because there are many dedicated foster parents out there, with good intentions. Foster parents whose idealism led them to pursue foster care, and who experience emotional pain when foster youth are removed from their home.

I wish every foster parent were like that... but since there are some nefarious foster parents out there, there needs to be nationwide oversight over foster placements.

1.) Each state should keep track of deaths in foster care. This is not happening.

2.) If one child dies in foster care, all other foster children should be removed immediately. Two-year-old Allison Newman was placed in foster care in November 2004, due to maternal neglect. Her Michigan foster family had expressed hopes that they might adopt her. Social workers documented that Allison appeared healthy and happy when they visited her.
Two days after a caseworker visit, Allision was dead. The foster mother claims that Allison "repeatedly hit her her on the side of the bed in the course of play." However, Allison's autopsy has led to questions and doubts about this explanation.

To their credit, Lutheran Social Services removed other foster children from the home immediately. Sadly, this does not always happen.

3.) National information sharing when it comes to sexual and/or physical abuse by foster parents. If an adult sexually abuses a foster child in one state, he/she should not be free to do the same in another state.

In my state, they are exploring the possibility of a statewide database of foster parents, so that adults who abuse the children in their care in one county or through one agency aren't free to do the same in another.

Sources
Ferretti, Christine. Questions surround tot's foster care, Detroit News, Sept. 26, 2006, Metro, pg 2B.
Miller, Carol Marbin. No list of kids on mood drugs. Miami Herald, Sept. 23, 2006, Metro pg. 1B.

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