Saturday, October 20, 2007

Statewide Independent Living Summit -- the first of many more to come!

Yesterday was my state's first statewide independent living summit...

Arlene Jones
(pictured on the left) shared her experiences and insights during the afternoon closing session.

Members of the the statewide chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America served on the conference planning committee and presented at the conference.

With the support of and collaboration with our allies, OACCA, OFCA, Lighthouse Youth Services, PCSAO and the statewide youth advisory board, Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio, we are already planning ahead for the independent living conference next year!

Next year, we would like for the independent living summit to be:
- Free (vs. reimbursed afterwards)
- Invite 600 attendees (vs. approx. 200 this year)
- Have the conference last for two days (vs. just one day this year)

Due to the time constraints of limiting the conference to one day, this two-hour workshop was two-parts. I led the first part of both the morning and afternoon session. My topic was long-term emotional health and building relationships after experiencing foster care.

So many times, the focus is on placement. But, wherever young people wind up, foster care, group homes, kinship care or reunified with their biological parents, they still need to be equipped to cope with their experiences and the emotional aftermath.

For a sneak peek at some of the information I covered in my presentation, please feel free to visit my Fostering Attachment blog.

The second half of the workshop was led by Cece Norwood of Nirvana Now.
Cece did not experience the foster care system personally, but she experienced sexual abuse first-hand.

Cece Norwood has a Masters degree in Counseling and is extremely knowledgeable about the foster care system. She counseled for years, but now serves primarily as a life coach, since wants to help people develop and implement a plan for their lives rather than counseling them indefinitely.

What I liked most about Cece was her ability to recognize and celebrate participants' survival skills and their strengths.

I wish you could have been there to hear her speak, and hear her responses to young people -- male and female youth who poured their hearts out, sometimes in tears -- about the sexual abuse that had scarred their lives...

We presented the same workshop twice. The morning workshop was mostly professionals; the afternoon one was mostly youth.

The afternoon workshop was "standing room only." Every seat was filled and we had to bring in eight chairs, and still there were people standing the hallway, listening....

In the future, I look forward to more opportunities to share the message of building relationships after aging out of foster care on a national level. I also believe that Cece Norwood has valuable insights to offer to foster care alumni who have experienced sexual abuse throughout the nation.

8:30—9:30 am Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:30—11:30 am Morning workshops
11:30—1:00 pm Luncheon and Youth Film Festival
1:00—3:00 pm Afternoon workshops
3:00—4:00 pm Wrap-up Panel

Workshop Selections (same in morning and afternoon):

- Education and Employment: the Yellow Brick Road to Independence: Workshop by Greene County Children's Services & Berea Children's Home and Family Services

- The Necessary Ingredients: Housing and Community Resources:Workshop by Lighthouse Youth Services and Young Adult Community Development

- Crossing the Big Divide: Supporting Youth To Develop Successful Transition Plans: Workshop by Medina County JFS & Beech Acres Parenting Center

- Finding Your Balance: Overcoming Trauma to Build Healthy Relationships: Workshop by Foster Care Alumni of America, & Nirvana Now

- Tapping the Power Within: Empowering Youth Through Youth Advisory Boards: Montgomery County Children Services & Youth Advisory Board

- Riding A Bicycle on the Ice: Youth With Mental Health Needs In-Transition: Workshop by Beech Brook and Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health

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I so wish I could send my ex foster daughter to hang out with you guys. She needs to know that foster care, and those who have exited, are taken seriously.

You and I should talk soon... both about the foster care online university plan, and also about the response (or lack of response?) that I received re: the Aussie agency for former fosters...

Rather than a message of empowerment, what I 'heard' in that email was the thought that foster care alumni are just damaged that we can't be expected to really do much.

I am still trying to formulate a response to this UNDER-estimation. It's so off-course,

Maybe you and I could draft a diplomatic response together?

You as a foster parent, and me as a former foster child? Your daughter could participate with us, and this might empower her.
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