Sunday, October 14, 2007

Four workshop activities at the fifth annual It's My Life conference

"Navigate Your Success As An Advocate:" Amanda Denara Johnson doesn't listen to negative self-talk!

The Ohio chapter of FCAA, Amanda Dunlap, Amanda Keller and I, were lucky because we presented our workshop, Overcoming Trauma and Achieving Intimacy, during the first session.

This meant that after our presentation was over, we were able to enjoy all the other wonderful workshops that IML had to offer!

Here are some workshop activities that I was very impressed by:

1.) In By Chance, Out By Choice

This activity shared portions of a play by Kamika Whetstone.

The actors (all foster care youth and alumni) acted out various roles of young people going through struggles, and adults in their lives who were either helping, harming or just observing them.

In the middle, they stopped -- and, let's face it, the play was so fabulous that I didn't want them to stop -- and broke the audience down into groups. One of the actors facilitated each group, as we tried to figure out what would happen to that character next.

What decisions would he or she make? Would this person survive? Thrive?

Then, they acted out the end of the play, and we were able to see if our guesses were right or not!

2.) Foster Youth and the Juvenile Justice System

In this workshop, we were introduced to:
- the background of the juvenile justice system
- the high rate of foster care youth and alums who get involved in it
- some of the reasons why young people might end up in the system

Among those reasons is the fact that some group home staff or foster parents over-rely on law enforcement in order to deal with normal adolescent behavior.

Young people who transfer from the foster care system to the juvenile justice system risk losing some of their educational funding and other benefits, depending on which state they are in...

After the preliminary discussion, we broke down into groups to play this powerful board game:

- Each member of the group had a role: foster care youth, group home staff, social worker and CASA.

- The rules were: The foster kid could not talk or roll the dice. Everyone else took turns rolling for them and moving their one token across the board. We could land on things like: "ran away," "got into a fight," or "disrupted adoption."

If we landed on a "Decision Point," then we all had to guess what what going on, and try to come up with the best placement decision -- but without any input from the foster child, because that person wasn't allowed to talk.

- At the end: The person who acted as the foster child was finally able to speak. She read from a piece of paper explaining all the reason behind her behavior.
Every one of our assumptions about the "why" of her behavior turned out to be wrong!

This game is a powerful teaching tool that should be played at least once by all professionals in a foster child's life, in order to remind them about how impossible it is to make the right placement decisions for a child without his or her input.

3.) Biological Parents and College Students from Foster Care

The initial activity was to break people down into groups and give them puzzle pieces. But, each group soon realized that it would be impossible to complete the activity successfully, because the puzzle pieces didn't match the box -- or each other.

This was an effective way to demonstrate the difficulty that is sometimes experienced in reuniting with birth families after aging out of foster care.

One presenter shared that when she was in college, her bio-mom found out about the stipend and grants that she was receiving and started relying on her daughter to financially support her.

Finally, she had to say NO to her mom, and learn how to take care of herself. This was a painful decision for her, and she was brought to tears as she shared.

4.) Navigate Your Own Success As An Advocate

This workshop also relied on creative dramatics as a way to keep the audience engaged and get the audience involved.

The workshop leaders role-played both negative and positive "self-talk" by having one person lie down, and others surround her, speaking to her in voices of either encouragement or discouragement.

Then, they role-played two scenarios between a foster care youth and her (sixth) social worker. In the first one, the social worker hadn't read her file and didn't know her name -- and the foster care youth told her off.

In the second scenario, the social worker came better prepared, and the young person expressed the same concerns but in a nicer and more proactive way:

"This is what I want from you. This is what I need from you. You are my sixth social worker in ___ months, so it is hard for me to trust that you will live up to your promises, but for now I will give you the benefit of the doubt."

Then, two people from the audience came up. One person shared that, in real life, she had just been placed in a brand-new foster home, and neither she nor her new foster mom knew what the expectations were.

The other, a young man, was assigned the role of "foster dad" and the two of them negotiated the expectations together:

- What was her curfew?
- What about boys?
- What about having her friends over?
- etc.

All four of these workshops were creative and memorable.

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