Sunday, December 24, 2006

'This Is Not A Suitcase' Campaign

A plastic bag has many uses. You could rake up the leaves in your backyard, and scoop them into a Hefty cinch-sack. You could take out the trash.

But it is inappropriate to utilize plastic garbage bags as suitcases for displaced children.

When children have to change placements or age out of foster care, stuffing their belongings into garbage backs does not accurately reflect the sum total of their worth.

In the United Kingdom, A National Voice charity has organized a national campaign called, "This Is Not A Suitcase."

As part of this campaign, foster youth in the UK staged a catwalk protest on Oct. 27, 2005 and Oct. 23, 2006.

This fashion show is called 'The Refuse Collection,' because all of the outfits were made from garbage bags.

In 2007, Foster Care Associates will support the national campaign by launching an exhibition of artwork made up of hand-painted suitcases, which will tour the UK.

These suitcases have been decorated by foster youth who are preparing to age out of the foster care system. They reflect the inner thoughts and emotions that are part of this transition.

Luke Chapman, FCA coordinator explains, "The dual message represented by the suitcases reflects transition in the life of a young person in the care system and secondly it underlines the respect which should be attributed to the life possessions and memories of that young person."

Youth aging out of foster care often experience feelings of anxiety and loneliness. At the time when they need the most support and guidance, many are left to fend for themselves. Chapman hopes that the exhibit will spark dialogue about how to create additional support systems for emancipated foster youth.

For more information, please visit:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Free Resource for Child Advocates

Voices for America's Children has just released the third edition of their Child Advocacy Primer, which can be downloaded free of charge:

This document offers tips and tools for improving your child advocacy skills, since there is little formal training in this area.

Read it. Use it.
I know I will...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

History behind my concerns about Kentucky

Sunshine Girl On A Rainy Day: From One Extreme to the Other

More on KY's quick-trigger adoptions

Definition of beaurocracy: An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action; e.g. innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

As mentioned in previous blog entries, Kentucky social workers have alleged that the Cabinet inappropriately removes children from their homes and expedites state adoptions, motivated by federal funding, e.g. women who enter homless shelters due to domestic violence in Kentucky lose custody of their children.

Complaints have been levied by Kentucky Youth Advocates and the National Institute on Children, Youth and Families.

A 12-member adoption panel, chaired by Cabinet for Health and Family Services Commissioner Mark D. Birdwhistell... can you see a conflict of interest here? I can... has reviewed the process and practices leading to termination of parental rights and adoption in Kentucky's child welfare system.

Their goal was to identify areas of improvement and propose legislation for the 2007 General Assembly. Basically, there needs to be fairness and consistency in custody termination.

What proposals have they made?
1.) Take more efforts to locate family members (such as the biological father) before putting child up for adoption; something that is not being done now

2.) Give parents an attorney and let them know that their child's custody is at stake

3.) Give court-appointed attorneys and guardians ad litem a raise (this initiative has been unsuccessfully suggested in 10 other statewide panels over the past 30 years)

4.) Require that family judges and attorneys attend training specifically about foster care and custodial termination (I wholeheartedly agree that this training shold be mandated).

All of these improvements will need to be approved by the General Assembly. If they are not approved, they are basically 'dead in the water.'

Definition of 'dead in the water:' Not going anywhere or making any progress, e.g. The crippled ship was dead in the water. With no leadership, the project was dead in the water.

Meanwhile, Kentucky State Auditor Crit Luallen has released a performance audit of the states adoption process from foster care. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services... again, can you see the conflict of interest, it's difficult for a beaurocracy to audit itself... issued a news release saying the audit would offer "general recommendations" for improving the adoption process.

Conversely, Crit Luallen's audit indicated that "Kentucky should make adoption a higher priority." Here is a direct quote: "The Commonwealth has an interest in making adoptions a favorable choice for Kentucky families." A financial interest, yes.

I don't want children to languish in foster care. If their biological parents cannot and will not care for them, I have no problem with putting them up for adoption.

What troubles me is the financial interest that the Cabinet has in facilitating speedy custodial terminations. The state receives a bonus of $4,000 for each adopted child, and more if the child has special needs. I will link to my previous blog entry on May 7th for your convenience.

Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Auditor to report on adoption, foster care practices today - Quick-trigger adoptions alleged. Lexington Herald-Leader, Dec. 14, 2006, City & Region pg. C4.

Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Panel wants Kentucky's adoption laws changed: Focuses on parents' rights. Lexington Herald-Leader, Dec. 15, 2006, City & Region pg. C1.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Illinois - Foster kids are our kids

I was very impressed by this website:

Foster care is a community effort. Everyone can play a role.

Perhaps not everyone can be a foster parent, but they can:
-Mentor a foster child
-Volunteer at a foster care agency
-Donate money, or help with fundraising
-Join the foster of a foster care agency

Do you know what else I was impressed with?
The fact that 64 child welfare agencies collaborated to create a campaign to help foster children. They didn't cast stones at one another. They didn't compete with each other for funding. They stood together to make this campaign happen.

"Don't Write Me Off: Foster Kids Are Our Kids," represents a partnership of child welfare agencies from every region of the state spearheaded by Voices for Illinois Children.

They are currently sharing their message through print advertisements. billboards, subway/bus advertisments and Spanish language radio promotions.

It's a unique campaign. Speaking as a foster child, I often felt that I was "nobody's child." Yet this advertising campaign is designed to remind the public that foster children are everybody's children and that everyone can play a role.

To view the commerical that they have created, visit:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Working on a research proposal

Above are pictures from my favorite birthday... until now! Aren't my stepdaughters lovely? And, isn't my husband handsome? He designed the cake himself, just by looking at the picture. On that day, I couldn't believe that I had gone from being rootless to having such loving connections... Seemed almost too good to be true!

This is my birthday weekend (Dec. 10th) and I am working on a research proposal focusing on foster care alumni and attachment issues.

To understand more about the issues that I will be focusing on:

A friend of mine, who is also an alumni of foster care, has a grant to study the health care of foster care alumni, and hopes to incorporate my ideas into his study (re: mental health issues), but I need to get the information to him quickly.

Knowing that this research might actually take place and benefit foster care alumni, by helping them to navigate intimate relationships after a lifetime of interrupted attachments is the best present that I could possibly receive!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lumping kids together doesn't create an atmosphere of safety

Today, I participated in a conference call, which was part of the ongoing training to be a virtual mentor for foster youth through the Orphan Foundation of America.

Three young people who are in the process of aging out of the foster care system were on the line, to share some of their personal experiences. One of them, I knew personally, having met her in October at the It's My Life conference. I recognized her voice right away!

Another young lady named Cherish mentioned that she had entered foster care at age 14, and was placed immediately into an emergency shelter. Why? Because she was older, and it would take time to find a foster care placement for her.

When I heard this, I asked her, "Did you feel safe? Who else was there in the emergency shelter with you?"

Cherish said, no, she definitely did not feel safe. Immediately after her entry in the emergency shelter, she was shocked by the behavior of other residents. One girl there went around breaking picture frames with her fists.

For the duration of time that Cherish spent in temporary shelter placements, she had to walk on eggshells. "There were locks on the doors and the windows -- but you have to share rooms in some of the group homes, and when your roommate is a shoplifter, you end up having to hide your most precious possessions or carry them around with you."

When Cherish entered foster care, it felt to her like her whole life had been turned upside down. "What did I do wrong? I had never been in trouble. I had never committed a crime. It was dangerous on so many different levels. I think there should be different group homes/shelters for different types of girls."

She continued, "Another thing that bothered me were the restrictions. Group homes usually operate by a point-system. Every day, you start out with no privileges at all. You have to clean house or copy out the dictionary just to earn privileges -- that's not how it works in an ordinary home."

Cherish talked about the stigma of being in foster care, "I had always been a good student. School was the one area where I felt safe, and where I excelled. But after I entered the group home, I had to bring notecards to school for teachers to sign. Other students notice things like that, and I was labeled as being a group home girl."

Cherish is currently in college, working towards her MSW. She works two part-time jobs; one of them as a behavioral health professional.

When one of the other participants in the teleconference asked Cherish what motivated her to enter college, Cherish answered, "Because I had been homeless two times. I wanted to be able to take care of myself and my family, and never have to worry about being without food or shelter again."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At what point do temporary shelters become long-term?

The Ohio foster care system has recently been under a great deal of scrutiny, and has been receiving national attention. Experts from various states are eager to propose strategies for improvement.

With all the challenges currently faced by the California foster care system, it’s interesting that California-based advocacy groups are finding the time to advise Ohio.

San Diego County detective Victoria Reden conducted a week-long review of three-year-old Marcus’ death. Reden was paid $3,178 plus travel expenses for her study and recommendations.

One of Reden’s recommendations for Ohio was the establishment of a 20-bed receiving center to house abused children temporarily, until they can be matched with foster parents. She referred to the Polinsky Children’s Center, as a California example.

Commissioner Mike Fox and chairman of the Butler County task force Dan Hare say that they are willing to explore that possibility.

But Carole Shauffer, executive director of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center, recently warned them that while receiving shelters might sound good on the surface, in practice, “They wind up being a warehouse for kids that are difficult to place for some reason.”

Too often, temporary shelters facilities designed to house a small number of children for 30 days or less wind up becoming overcrowded, long-term way-stations.

Child Haven in Clark County is one tragic example. This Nevada facility was designed to hold 84 children and 20 infants. Yet, in June of this year, Child Haven held 205 children; 105 of whom were age 4 and under. Due to overcrowding, many young people were forced to sleep on the gym floor.

Length of stay can also become an issue. The Department of Family Service's policy was that children shouldn't stay at Child Haven longer than two weeks. However, upon investigation, it was revealed that children were remaining in Child Haven much longer. The average stay there was 45 days. One child had been at Child Haven for over two years.

Similar problems have occurred in California. My Nov. 14th blog entry details how LA County’s MacLauren Children’s Center became a dumping ground for emotionally disturbed children and how, since the closing of that center, foster children from toddlers to teens are often been housed overnight in caseworkers waiting rooms.

Brooks, Candice. Plans to create temporary housing for abused children draws fire; Critics say ‘receiving shelters’ turn into orphanages that are mentally and socially detrimental to kids. Dayton Daily News, Nov. 22, 2006, p A10.
Kihara, David. Infant dies at Child Haven: Death latest in series of woes for system. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 16, 2006.
Kihara, David. Overcrowding: Child welfare groups warn of lawsuits Youth Law Center demands reforms. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 19, 2006.
McLaughlin, Sheila. Foster care reforms advised; Butler Co. gets list of how it can improve services. Cincinnati, Enquirer, Nov. 23, 2006, Metro pg. C1.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Arizona foster care series ended a week too soon

Three "faces of Arizona foster care:" Regina, Christa and Lupe.

An Arizona foster care series in the Payson Roundup demonstrates journalists' commitment to "put a face" on foster care.

In pursuit of this goal, they designated a three-week period to focus on this topic:
1.) During the first week, reporter Michael Maresh spent the day with staff at Child Protective Services.

2.) During the second week, Felicia Megdal interviewed parents who had lost their children.

3.) The third week was earmarked for interviews with foster parents.

Can anyone guess whose viewpoint was missing? If you said foster care youth and alumni, you are correct.

Kudos to the journalists for recognizing that in Arizona today, 9,902 children are living with foster parents. Thanks to them for stepping into the shoes of social workers, foster parents and biological parents, and helping others to empathize with these complicated positions.

I only encourage them to take this courageous journey one step further, by allowing air time for foster care youth and alumni. We are the "consumers" of the foster care system. Our lives are most greatly impacted by the outcome of custodial decisions.

In the future, I encourage the staff of Payson Roundup to add a fourth week to "put a face on foster care." I actually have three faces to share: (see above); three founding members of Foster Care Alumni of America.

Payton Roundup. Foster care series hopes to put human face on government system. Nov. 17, 2006.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dayton, OH, and their foster youth advisory board

Did you know that Chaffee funds require states to have a youth advisory board?
Neither did Franklin County Children Services (in Columbus, Ohio).

Montgomery County Children Services (in Dayton, Ohio) not only has a youth advisory board, but they have actually listened to their suggestions and brought about positive change.

Initiatives of Dayton's foster youth advisory board include:
1.) A holiday ball for foster youth/alumni. The youth advisory board chooses colors, food and theme. Participants choose a Winter Ball king and queen. This is great because foster youth aren't always able to attend Homecoming or prom.

2.) Sibling outings four times per year: The youth advisory board plans the outings. The most recent one took place at Fear Fest. This is fabulous, because often foster youth rarely get the chance to see their siblings, and if they do, it tends to be in a sterile environment.

3.) Teen Welcome Wagon: When teens enter foster care, members of the youth advisory board come over to meet with them and give them a copy of the teen handbook, along with a $5 McDonalds gift card, and offer their support.

4.) Youth advisory board members train foster parents how to deal with teens.

Supportive services provided by Montgomery Children Services include:- Arranging gown/suit donation for the annual Holiday Ball.
- Hiring a DJ and photographer, so that participants of the Holiday Ball leave with photos.

Montgomery County Children Services provides a high school program on campus, whereby teenager can earn their high school diploma or GED by participating in a digital program. A laundry and kitchen is provided nearby, for convenience.

*TransportationDoris Edelmann has received funding from PCSAO to buy 10 used cars for emancipated foster youth. Along with it will be provided: 6 months worth of insurance, a gas card and a safety kit. There will be an application process, requiring recipients to have completed driver's ed.

Montgomery County foster youth advisory board members are sent to either the NILA conference or the PATHWAY conference (or both). Before they go, teens are given $100 gift card for Value City to buy professional clothing.

When Doris takes members of the youth advisory board to conferences, she arranges it so that they arrive two days early, in order to get acclimated and explore the area. They're also given an allowance to spend.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kudos to Judge Carole Clarke

In September of this year, Carole Clark, a Texas family court judge, convened a group of almost 100 child care professionals to conduct an overview of the foster care system in East Texas.

Judge Clark did this to address a myriad of concerns...
- 19,000 children are in the Texas foster care system at any given time.
- 32,500 children passed through the system last year.

- Over the past three years, the number of foster parents in East Texas has decreased by 20%.
- Meanwhile, there has been an increased number of children entering the foster care system, due to family members being hooked on methamphetamine.

- Caseloads are twice as high as they were in 1998, when former Gov. George W. Bush declared the Texas foster care system "in crisis."
- Jobless couples have been taking in as many as 6-8 emotionally disturbed foster children as their primary form of income

After reviewing the current situation in depth, several suggestions were made:

1.) Instituting a cap on foster family size. Texas has four levels of reimbursement for foster care, and payments increase according to the severity of physical or behavioral problems. Right now, foster families can take in up to six "moderately" disturbed children -- and Judge Clark wants to decrease that number to four or fewer.

2.) Stop moving children once they improve: The state's financial incentive is to move foster children who have improved their behavior to homes licensed for less troubled youth. This practice does not benefit the foster child -- rather, it actually encourages the child not to improve, because to do so means another loss of stability.

3.) Shorten the chain of command. Let local CPS workers call the shots about what happens to children. Give the people in the trenches the authority to make decisions.

4.) Stop separating siblings. Panel members realized that for children who have been separated from their parents, siblings often represent the only "family" that they have...

5.) Revisit the idea of group homes. The least popular suggestion that Judge Clark made was for the state to consider creating permanent residential facilities, which might offer more stability than frequent moves between foster homes.

Her idea is for these facilities to be staffed by both hourly shift workers and live-in foster parents.

Why was this suggestion so unpopular?
In philosophies and other schools of thought, people often adhere unquestioningly to one viewpoint, then reject it and, in a knee-jerk reaction, take the polar opposite view.

Over the years, there has been a pendulum swing regarding public opinion towards group homes is concerned.

When I was in foster care in the 1980's, I lived in group homes, due to the shortage of available foster homes and the lack of foster parents who were willing to take in older children. I lived in residential facilities from ages 12 to 16, when I started college.

Group homes weren't perfect. I just wonder at the fact that, rather than trying to fix those problems, many people have rejected group homes altogether.

I think that we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater by trading poorly screened staff at group homes for overloaded caseworkers and poorly screened foster parents.

A teenager residing in a well-run group home for several years with stable staff could build a base of emotional stability. According to the 70 Developmental Assets for youth, teens and tweens need at least one stable adult in their lives that they can rely on.

Why not try it?
I think Smith County should create some group homes for teenagers, and staff them with well-trained professionals. Group home staff should be carefully screened and supervised. Foster care alumni insights should be sought about many issues.

Sometimes considering creative solutions can constitute a risk in losing popularity. It is a worthwhile risk, and I am glad that Judge Clark is taking it.

Garrett, Robert. Judge sees crisis in foster care; Her panel suggests group homes, more control for CPS workers. Dallas Morning News, Oct. 16, 2006.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Foster Children & Emergency Shelters

The ideal vs. reality
Ideally, all teenagers would be linked with loving, permanent families before aging out of foster care. Realistically, that doesn't always happen.

More often, teens in foster care find themselves bouncing between various placements -- and sometimes, when a "bed" is not available elsewhere, spending time in an emergency shelter.

Imagine that you are a displaced teenager spending the night in an emergency shelter. What risks might you face? Would you be raped by a resident or staff member? Robbed? Beaten?

Would you emerge from that experience physically or emotionally scarred?

None of these groups is just like the other...
Consider the diverse populations that are often housed together in emergency shelters: juvenile delinquents, emotionally disturbed children and victims of child abuse.

All three populations are treated the same. That means that a physically or sexually abused child who enters an emergency shelter is treated the same as a juvenile offender.

This creates a dangerous and unhealthy environment, where healing is absent, victimization is frequent and supervision is often inadequate. Shelters can traumatize children, and often provide a breeding ground for abuse. Why remove abused teenagers from one unsafe situation, only to house them in another?

Don't call it "shelter"
-Oak Hill Homes, an emergency shelter in Georgia with lax security measures, became a virtual recruiting ground for pimps seeking underage prostitutes. Meanwhile, at a nearby shelter for boys, two workers were fired for getting into a fight with a resident.

-MacLauren Children's Center, in LA County, became a dumping ground for emotionally disturbed children. Employees were untrained to provide mental health services. Instead, they used physical restraint an average of four times per day -- causing broken limbs and other injuries.

It's all about the money
When people in power fail to invest in long-term solutions, facilities designed to house a small number of children for 30 days or less end up becoming long-term way-stations.

Licensed to take in a certain number of children, emergency shelters often end up over capacity. In terms of staffing, both pay and qualifications are often minimal.

The first solution that many state officials suggest is "privatizing." Unlike county-run facilities, private group homes and shelters are required to be licensed. However, like county-run facilities, private shelters need funding and expect some financial assistance from the government.

Licensing regulations supposedly prohibit overcrowding, limit the use of physical restraints and establish minimal staff qualifications and training. However, in Washington D.C., five private "respite centers" proved themselves to be just as inept and unsafe as county-run emergency shelters.

Finding them "a bed"
After the MacLauren Children's Center was closed, foster children (from toddlers to teens) were often housed overnight in the waiting room of an office building, waiting for their LA County social workers to find them a "bed."

Not a "family," adoptive or foster. Not the "best match." Not someone who might care for them and love them. Just a bed; someplace to spend the night. Not knowing where they'd be tomorrow.

This practice has been reported as recently as 2005, when six foster youth waiting in the office ran away.

Interestingly, in New York, some teenagers refused to leave their caseworker's office, finding it safer and more welcoming than the foster and group homes to which they were assigned.

Editorials: Georgia's foster children: Fewer shelters, more dollars a better mix for abused kids. Atlanta Journal, Oct. 24, 2002, p. A20.
Horowtiz, Sari. Short-term shelters for children under fire. Washington Post, Nov. 18, 2001, pgC1.
Larrubia, Evelyn. The state; foster children slept in office... Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2005.
Leonard, Jack. 6 foster kids have fled office... Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2005, pgB1.
Martz, Ron. Child advocate: Shelter funding, security poor. Atlanta Journal, May 20, 2001, pgF1.

Rainey, James. Action urged on homes for troubled youths; shelter: Advocates call on L.A. County to expedite separation of the emotionally disturbed from delinquents. Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14, 1997.
Rivera, Carla. Suit targets counties' shelters for children...overcrowded and dangerous. Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 2000, pgB1.
Swarns, Rachel. For children, another night on office cots. New York Times, Nov. 28, 1997, pgB1.
Thevenot, Carri. Plan to cut number of children in institutional care progresses. Las Vegas Review, Nov. 4, 2006, pgB1.

Monday, November 06, 2006

One-stop-shopping for emancipated foster youth

Everyone has their favorite landmark in Texas. What's yours? Big Bend National Park? The Alamo?

After attending the fourth annual "It's My Life" conference, my favorite place in Texas is now the Houston Alumni and Youth (H.A.Y.) Center.

The H.A.Y. Center provides one-stop-shopping for foster youth and alumni, between the ages of 16 to 21.

Services include:
- Mentoring and counseling services, including drug/alcohol abuse counseling
- GED / college preparation courses
- Assistance locating housing
- Advanced job placement training
- A computer lab, mailboxes, voice mail and email

The one-stop-shopping approach is so important. It eliminates gaps in services. It doesn't force people in and from foster care to traverse from one place to another in order to get the help that they need.

In Ohio, where I live, there are 88 counties, each with differing services. One of my first projects for the Foster Care Alumni of America pilot chapter will be to lay the groundwork for a statewide yellow pages, so at least we will know where resources are located and where the gaps in services are for people in and from foster care... I am hoping that FirstLink will agree to partner with us on this effort.

The H.A.Y. Center offers leadership opportunities for foster youth and alumni.
I first met Victor, Xavier and Gabbie at the airport. We were preparing to board a plane, en route from Houston to Seattle. We were on our way to attend the 2006 "It's My Life" conference.

I wish you could have been there to attend H.A.Y. Center's workshop, and to hear the voices of foster care alumni:

Imagine meeting a talented young man named Victor. He once was homeless -- but he is now a talented photographer, constantly honing his skills. Not only has he pulled his own life together, but he is dedicated to helping others.

Meet Xavier, future filmmaker. Hear him share what attracts him to the medium of film. Watch a "short" that he has created. When Xavier shares his experiences from foster care in his films, his approach will be subtle, but his message will resonate.

And, allow me to introduce you to Gabbie. She is gentle, approachable and fun. She grew up in foster care, and now her goal is to make the path easier for others. As such, she is now a Youth Specialist with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Gabbie is quick to dismiss herself in the light of Victor and Xavier's artistic talents -- but Gabbie's gifts are interpersonal. She has the type of warm and accepting personality that if I ever had a problem, I would feel comfortable sharing it with her.

I plan to post pictures of the three of them soon...

I'd like to extend my thanks to wonderful people like Pamela Walker, Assistant Director of the H.A.Y. Center. It took work to set up collaborations with Harris County Youth Services, Texas Apartment Locators, the Texas Work Commission, DePelchin Children's Center, and so many others in order to make this endeavor a success.

It takes patience and diligence both to establish this kind of center, and to follow-through with everyday operations.

And it takes a certain degree of humility to facilitate alumni and youth leadership in workshops and discussions... taking a step back from being in the limelight, and focusing your efforts to make foster youth and alumni shine!

Kudos to the H.A.Y. Center, my favorite Texas landmark. For more information, please visit:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What's going on with Australia and foster care?

I shall continue to post my notes and updates on contacts from the 2006 It's My Life conference. However, several articles about the foster care situation in Australia have recently captured my attention...

Alienating foster parents winds up hurting the kids
In Australia, the NSW Foster Care Association ordered a boycott yesterday in response to changes in the law. Up to 1,000 foster parents are predicted to quit the system, and hundreds more will refuse to provide emergency refuge for at-risk children.

The Department of Human Services wants to disclose the personal details of 10,000 foster parents and their families to birth parents with a history of violence and abuse.

Information would include foster parents' names, addresses, telephone numbers and workplace, as well as details relating to foster parents' birth children.

Community Services Minister Reba Meagher did not consult foster parents about the issue.

This news came just days after a large billboard was unveiled in Sydney, calling for more foster parents to volunteer over Christmas.

Foster Care Association president Mary Jane Beach responded that,"The people who draft these laws have no idea of the implications. They think it's like a family picnic."

Another proposed law, which was more popular with foster parents, would allow foster parents to adopt their foster children without the consent of birth parents. Beach said, "For too long, the interest of birth parents has been placed before the children."

In New Zealand, for example, over 23% of foster children lived in three or more foster homes in the past 12 months. 156 children were passed around 6 or more homes. Dozens were shifted between 8-11 homes within one year. These children need and deserve permanency.

Foster parents in the land down under have expressed an urgent need for better respite care, in order to provide time off when they need it.

Compensation for kinship care providers is also an issue
It is estimated that, in Tasmania, 8,000 children are currently being raised by their grandparents and that number is growing all the time.

Custodial grandparents save the state a lot of money -- especially since the 2003 federal goverment recommendation that kinship care providers receive the same financial support of foster parents has apparently been disregarded.

According to the articles cited below:
Custodial grandparents in Tasmania receive $28 fortnightly
Australian foster parents receive between $374 and $564 a fortnight, depending on the age of the child.

Curious to know what a 'fortnight' is? Every two weeks.

The rate for kinship care compensation has not increased over the past 15 years.

Lack of oversight leads to death
Baby Elizabeth Edwards didn't have to die. Her death was neither willful nor malicious -- just plain ignorance. Elizabeth was placed by her foster mother in a cot with a bottle in her mouth and surrounded by a U-shaped pillow.

The baby suffocated and choked on the contents of her stomach. Her foster mother wasn't an evil woman. She was trying to do a good thing. But, foster mother Janet Todd had never been educated about sudden infant death syndrome.

South Australia's only foster care placement organization is Anglicare SA. This organization has no minimum level of training for foster parents. Their training courses do not include infant care.

"Our training has tended to focus on attachment, loss and grief, behaviour management and the traumas associated with placement," Anglicare manager, Margie Battye, told the court. She said that Anglicare did not have the budget and resources to provide infant care training.

Tell that to baby Elizabeth.

Australia's foster care system is a problem that is not going to go away. The number of children needing foster care has increased from 15,000 to 23,000 over the past five years. Meanwhile, the number of available foster parents has dropped from 14,000 to 9000.

Edwards, Verity. Foster mum had no baby-care training: Foster parents were not shown how to care for babies before a nine-month-old girl died while in care in 2004, a welfare group has admitted. The Australian, Nov. 2, 2006.
O'Dwyer, Erin. Worried foster parents in revolt over new rules. The Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 5, 2006.
Labour talk is cheap on foster care. Press release by United Future New Zealand Party, Oct. 31, 2006.
Vowles, Gill. Care shame: Tasmania's custodial grandparents are still waiting to get equity with foster carers four years after being promised it by the state and federal goverments. The Sunday Tasmanian, Oct. 29, 2006.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Foster Youth Need Both Independence and Permanency

Independence and Permanency – Can Youth in Care Have Both?
Notes from It's My Life Conference 2006

*Please note: The panel was made up of very fortunate youth. If you are linked with a wonderful foster family, legalization might not constitute a big issue. Not everyone is that fortunate. It would have been interesting to also hear from non-Casey foster youth.

Ideal for youth in care to have:
1.) Lifelong family relationships
2.) Adequate preparation for adulthood

*Definition of “permanence:” remaining until the end; indestructible (a stable mind in a stable place)
*Definition of “independence:” capable of thinking or acting for one self

What is “family?”
Nebulous definition; “people who are there for you all the time”

Biological vs. “chosen” family
Some youth are never adopted or linked with a long-term foster family; some age out of residential facilities.

How important is a legal family? Adoption can provide a last name and legal rights

Supporting and establishing a "circle of support"
Who should be involved and when should it start? As soon as possible! Emphasize the importance at an early age. Search out people with whom young person feels comfortable.

Start networking and information gathering from the time that a youth enters foster care. This needs to be forethought, not an afterthought. Empower the young person and involve them in the thought process and decision-making.

Perhaps the young person isn’t ready to think about a permanent placement yet. They might have the mindset of: “Why work on permanence when I don’t even have a home?” It's a bad idea to wait until young person finds a permanent foster home because that might never happen.

Youth-in-care need an entire web of connections; not just one person. This could include a mentor, therapist, peers, fellow alumni... You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, because that person might die or move away.

Most representatives on the panel were approximately 17 years old. I really see the need for a continuum of ages (FCAA). What I have learned as a 33-year-old alumna of foster care is that permanence and independence can be tenuous and fragile:

1.) If there are no legal ties, support networks can drift apart over time (especially if you move out of state; which many people do when attending / graduating from college)

2.) You might have to re-establish a support network / safety net later on – so it’s important to build the skills to do that, not just once, but over and over again

Difficult to explain confusing relationships to people from traditional (“normal”) families… Tough questions; it can be seem unfair and painful to have to explain over and over… Uncomfortable to have to educate other people.

Measured disclosure: Foster youth and alumni often err on one side or the other; “over-share” vs. “’under-share.” If no success stories are told, negative stereotypes and stigmas will continue to exist. On the other hand, too much disclosure can make other people feel uncomfortable.

1.) For those who over-share: Consider utilizing discretion.

Realize that it is a risk whenever you share your story with other people. There are wolves and predators out there who might try to take advantage of you; they hear your story and assume you might be emotionally (and hence sexually) vulnerable.

A job interview might not be the best time to bring it up either. Try to keep a balanced, professional relationship at work, and don’t ask for special favors. At my job, I took time to prove myself before sharing that I had grown up in foster care.

2.) For those who under-share: Summon up your courage and wait for the right opportunity. Take one small step out of your comfort zone.

If the only thing that people see is negative behavior coming from foster youth and alumni, they will never have the opportunity to witness our strengths and success, and to open their minds.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lisa's flower costume at Casey conference

Part of the "It's My Life" conference included a Halloween party. I had sewn my flower costume ahead of time (created my own pattern and everything).

As it turned out, I was unable to attend the party, because of setting up everything for the Living Room, but I wore this in the Living Room that night for the youth activities.

Lots of the foster youth wore their costumes, too, but I was unable to take photos of them due to legal concerns (chaperones couldn't sign photo releases, and there was a risk that if I had taken photos, future youth wouldn't have been allowed to attend).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

2006 It's My Life conference - Lisa's experience

I have had the most amazing time at the 2006 It's My Life Conference, sponsored by the Casey Foundation. This is their 4th annual conference to support youth aging out of foster care. I attended for the first time.

Friday night, the night before my flight, I got a call from Foster Care Alumni of America asking me to take charge of all the youth activities in the "Living Room," since Misty Stenslie, the person in charge, was very sick. I said, yes.

It was a lot of work... The phrase "sleepless in Seattle" has an entirely new meaning for me now, because I totally didn't get much sleep.

But it was so rewarding and so much fun! After my flight arrived on Saturday, I sorted through the boxes that had been Fed-Exed to me and pulled everything together, including creating an outline of shifts for volunteers to help me supervise the Living Room.

Activities: There were two afternoon workshops on Sunday and Monday. On Sunday night, I hosted an ice cream social, as well as other activities. One Monday night, we had a karaoke and DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) contest and the winner got to keep the Play Station, mike and software.

Tuesday morning, I announced the prizes for participants who had made postcards to share a part of their experience in foster care. We did a drawing; prizes included an ipod, digital camera, Best Buy gift cards, Target gifts cards and coupons for various fast food establishments.

I had lots of food coupons and so I was able to reward youth for taking on leadership roles, such as judging the contest, and also reward chaperones who volunteered to work shifts helping to supervise the Living Room activities.

I also met the most amazing people. Back in 1989, when I aged out of foster care at age 16, I felt very alone (at least for the first two years, until I moved into a Methodist dorm and was surrounded by college friends who became my "family").

Spending so much time with foster youth, I heard many of their stories... I was both happy to hear of how things in foster care have progressed in some areas, and saddened to hear how they still need to be improved in others.

The three-day conference was filled with interesting contacts and conversations -- drama and adventures... I left feeling very exhausted, but also rejuvenated and incredibly happy.

I will share what I have learned in upcoming blog entries...

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 or

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

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:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Online newscast on foster children & antipsychotic drug

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Court Appointed Special Advocates

The primary purpose of CASA is to represent the best interest of the child. Court appointed special advocates visit the child's placement frequently, get to know the child, spend time ascertaining the facts -- and then come to court to share that information.

Four primary responsibilities of CASA volunteer:
1.) Investigate child's best interest
2.) Advocate (in court and with agencies) for that child and that child alone
3.) Facilitate an agreement between involved parties whenever possible
4.) Monitor the safety of the child's placement, and report back to court if that child is in need or in danger.

Benefits of CASA
Court appointed special advocates have one or two cases, whereas caseworkers and layers often have huge caseloads. So, not surprisingly, CASA volunteers visit the child's placement more frequently than social workers or lawyers.

Caseworkers represent their agency. Lawyers represent their firm. Because CASA workers are working for free, they are able to represent the child's best interest (ideally) without fear of financial reprisal.

It can be difficult for national organizations to maintain consistency on a local level. For this reason, CASA requires 30 hours of training at the onset, and then 12-15 hours of continued education each year.

You are not there to advocate for social services
Please be aware of this site:

The Houston organization, Child Advocates Inc., has a court-appointed volunteer program. However, these volunteers are encouraged to agree with and support the viewpoint of CPS.

Can you see how this is in direct violation of everything that CASA stands for?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Foster youth recommendations in my state

An organization in my state is working to establish a statewide foster youth advocacy group.

The director of this organization was first inspired by California Youth Connection. She and I met earlier this year with two members of her staff.

Foster youth involved in this program are given opportunities to describe their experiences to children's services staff, judges and youth advocates.

Here are some of the recommendations they have made on how to change the system...

Having their voice heard in court
Current foster youth report that they want to be able to speak to the judge personally about their case. They want to be present when a move is being considered or custodial decisions are being made. They desire meaningful interaction with the CASA or guardian ad-litem who is representing them in court.

Any adult would want to meet with his / her lawyer before a trial.

Sharing their insights regarding placements, including reunification
Foster youth want to be able to contact their caseworker directly. Meetings regarding the possiblity of reunification should include youth, biological parents, foster parents and caseworker.

Foster youth want the homes in which they are placed to be safe.
They recommended that foster parents participate in training, meet strict qualifications and be evaluated on an ongoing basis. They also recommended that foster parents be observed actually interacting with youth before being granted a license.

Continuity of care with therapist
Maintaining the same therapist, regardless of placement, builds trust and gives youth time to work through emotional issues. (Caseworkers and foster parents should also receive more training in the emotional challenges faced by foster youth).

Normalcy and preparation to transition out of foster care
- Placement with siblings, or regular contact with siblings
- Able to spend the night with a friend from school, if foster parent gives permission
- Freedom to participate in extra curricular activities
- Able to get a driver's license*

Foster youth asked for opportunities to engage in real-life experience, such as how to obtain housing, access public transportation and manage a checking account.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Scary statistics

According to the Sierra Adoption Services, 70% of San Quentin inmates grew up in foster care.

Nationwide, over 90% of the young men in prison were either abandoned by their parents, abused, and/or lived in the foster care system.

Each state has its challenges when it comes to foster care

Wherever you are in the world, if you have a foster care system, you are facing some serious challenges. We need to know what these challenges are, and face them with courage and resolution...

What we need vs. what we have
What we need in my state is a statewide network, designed to help people in and from foster care. What we have are 88 counties, each with their own unique interpretation of spending and oversight, and each with a lengthy roll of red tape.

We have one independent living coordinator in charge of overseeing IDP programs in all 88 counties. Makes me wonder about inconsistencies in each county when it comes to teens aging out of foster care. There seems to be a lot of job turnover in this position; three different people have held it within the past year.

Nonprofit organizations that serve foster youth are competing for a limited amount of funding -- and this seems to make them work against each other, rather than coordinating their efforts.

What we need is a collective voice, made up of people in and from foster care. What we have are organizations that like the idea of youth board made up of foster youth, as long as it is something that they can control.

Adult alumni who propose changes that might change the status quo are often perceived as threatening to established organizations.

Other challenges in my state:
1.) One county is in trouble for mismanagement and co-mingling of funds. State officials report that this county has so badly co-mingled its federal, state and levy income that large sums are virtually unauditable.

Two separate audits have recently indicted them. It has been determined that this county has received millions of federal and state dollars that it was not entitled to, between 2002 -2004.

They did this, by allegedly playing a "shell game" with funding, in order to avoid the legal requirement to match federal dollars.

One auditor found $37.8 million in undocumented spending. She also determined that an additional $169 million was improperly transferred from the children's services fund to the public-assistance fund between July 2001 - June 2004.

She has ordered that this money must be returned - but she doesn't have the power to actually make this happen.

2.) The state administrative agency is also on the hot-seat. When they were entrusted with distributing federal dollars, this came with the responsibility to scrutinize county spending.

Yet, the state failed to audit counties between 1993-2003, when the two special audits began.

3.) An autistic foster child in my state was recently murdered by his foster parents. This couple should never have been approved to foster any child, much less a child with special needs.

They were jobless, had moved 8 times within the past 10 years. Each spouse had a theft/shoplifting charge, the wife had filed domestic assault charges against her husband and there was a live-in girlfriend living in their household.

Residents have challenged the county commissioners to reconsider the qualifications of the independent board that is supposed to over see children's service agencies.

A task force is reviewing this, and by mid-December, they plan to suggest whether the oversight agency should:
a.) be folded into the county's department of job and family services
b.) be privatized,
c.) continue as an independent county board.

What could be accomplished within my state to make a positive difference?
1.) A lawyer I recently met with in California mentioned her concern that "Foster Bill of Rights" sound good on paper, but are utterly non-enforcable in a court of law. How can we put some "teeth" on rights for foster children?

2.) I wonder what, if anything, would motivate disconnected and often competitive agencies to work together to provide a safety net for children? Perhaps if federal funding requirements made it mandatory for them to do so?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Foster Parent Allegations

What exactly does it take to substantiate an allegation of abuse against a foster parent?

In court today, play therapist Susan Honeck said that she reported evidence of abuse four years before Ricky Holland was murdered by his adoptive parents.

Honeck had noticed a very deep rope burn on Ricky's wrist. Ricky told her that he had been handcuffed and tied up with dog rope. Honeck immediately informed Ricky's psychiatrist and filed a complaint with his social worker.

State officials dismissed Honeck's complaint as "unsubstantiated," and proceeded with Ricky's adoption. The Hollands were also approved to adopt Ricky's sister and two brothers.

Shortly after Honeck filed the complaint, Ricky's counseling with her was terminated.

Looking at it from multiple points of view

1.) The foster parents: To become a foster parent is to put yourself at risk. In training, foster parents are often told to expect allegations of abuse from troubled foster children. An Ohio foster parent has expressed her point-of-view eloquently in this blog:

2.) The foster children: What if foster daddy is truly putting the moves on you? What if foster mom really isn't giving you enough food? Among the many wonderful and dedicated foster parents, there are some serious freaks and losers. like Ricky Holland's and Marcus Fiesel's foster parents, for example.

Being in foster care = lack of credibility. If you as a foster child report abuse, it might be viewed as lying, seeking attention, etc. -- even if you are telling the truth, and the abuse is truly happening.

"False allegations" are a concern because they discourage potential foster parents.

Yet, I must be honest and tell you that my primary concern is for the child or teenager in foster care. Please listen to them. Being in foster care does not mean being a liar.

Ricky Holland told his play therapist that his foster parents were abusing him. The Hollands were allowed to adopt him and three of his siblings. Now, Ricky is dead.

Bouffard, Karen. Witness: State ignored abuse - social worker testifies Ricky was tied up, handcuffed before Hollands adopted 7-year-old. Detroit News, September 20, 2006.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

National conference focuses on permanency for older foster youth

In the United States, over 25,000 foster youth age out of care or run away each year, before being reunited with their biological parents or placed permanently with foster/adoptive families or relatives.

The 2006 National Convening on Youth Permanence focused on the challenges faced by foster youth ages 11 and older, in finding and maintaining permanent family connections.

According to 2004 federal data on youth in care:
- Almost 50% were 11 and older
- 20% were not living with families
- 58% were minorities (34% African American, 18% Hispanic, 2% Native American, 1% Asian)
- Over 20,000 would age out of foster care without establishing a permanent connection with a family member or caring adult.

The conference took place on September 13-15, 2006 in Washington, D.C. at the Renaissance Washington Hotel.

Attendees included approximately 400 participants, representing 41 states. Representatives from the Native American tribal nations and the District of Columbia were also present. These participants included legislators, attorneys, judges, researchers, child welfare commissioners, families and foster youth.

The first session, "Telling the Story" was based on youth perspectives of permanence. Panelists included foster youth and representatives from agencies such as Foster Club and Casey Family Services.

Other topics of interest were:
1.) Examining the racial disproportionality and disparities in foster care. This session was moderated by Carolyne Rodriguez, Texas State Strategy Director. Panelists (all from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services) included:

- Joyce James, Child Protective Services Asst. Commisioner
- Debra Emerson, Director of Policy and programs
- Vicky Coffee-Fletcher, Division Administrator for Family Focus

2.) Effective court and legal partnerships to achieve permanence for youth. This session was moderated by Gary Stangler. Panelists included Jennifer Rodriguez of the California Youth Connection.

Goal of this event
Before youth age out of care, there are several pathways to establishing a permanent connection.

These include:
- Reuniting a child with his / her biological family
- Giving custody to relatives
- Establishing a legal guardian
- Maintaining stability within a residential placement.

I was unable to attend this event, although I will be attending and assisting with the Casey Foundation's upcoming "It's My Life" conference in October.

A session that I personally would love to have notes from is "Teaming Strategies: Building Lifelong Family Relationships for Older Children and Youth in Residential Care."

I plan to contact the discussion moderator, Isabel Morales, and will post the information I receive from her.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Foster care in the 'Land Down Under'

Foster care challenges exist on every continent
In Australia, it appears that the greatest challenge is the bureaucracy.

A national survey of Australian foster parents has found that 73% regard the attitude of bureaucrats and social workers as the "worst thing'' about fostering.

According to Freda Briggs, a child protection expert at the University of South Australia, "They are reminded frequently that these are the department's children and they are expected to provide physical care without becoming emotionally involved."

If Australian foster parents' views differ from the social workers, they are often accused of being too emotionally involved.

Glenda Lloyd, who has been the foster mother to over 100 children since 1979, quit the foster care system three weeks ago. She had punished a 13-year-old foster child by withholding pocket money and cell phone from the child -- and had been reprimanded for doing so by the department.

Another foster mother, Dilana, had a three-year-old in her care with a raging fever. When she changed the child's diaper, she saw evidence of sexual abuse.

Dilana's first instinct was to take the child to the doctor. According to foster care regulations, she had to ask permission from the NSW Department of Community Services. She made several calls and left messages. No one responded.

By morning, the little girl's temperature had soared to dangerous levels. Her body was limp in Dilana's arms.

So Dilana took the three-year-old to her family doctor.

When DOCS found out, Dilana reports, "They told me I was in big trouble. They said I could be charged with something. They told me -- and I'll never forget this -- I had abused her human rights.''

Deeming Dilana's actions inappropriate, DOCS workers came to her house thirty minutes after that phone call. They removed the child's toys, books and photographs, and carried the distraught three-year-old from the house.

Dilana and her husband tried to find out if the little girl who had been abruptly removed from their home had received medical help, but their questions were never answered.

Last year, the couple applied to adopt another Aboriginal girl, who had been born to a member of their extended family.

DOCS blocked the adoption, and charged that Dilana and her husband were not suitable parents. The child was given to a Chinese couple, and Dilana was forbidded to visit.

Dilana and her husband hired a lawyer. They assembled more than 20 references. They spent $20,000 on legal fees. In the end, they won.

Their lawyer, Michael Vassili, commented, "I was just stunned by the ferociousness, the bullying, of DOCS."

Caring, loving foster parents exist on every continent
Their efforts to advocate for their children in their care should be supported and valued. They should not have to fear retaliation for doing what is right.

Overington, Caroline. Foster parents don't care much for social workers. The Australian,
Overington, Caroline. In strife for taking ill child to a doctor. The Australian, Sept. 11, 2006.

Overington, Caroline. Visit to doctor `abuses ill child's rights.' The Australian, Sept. 11, 2006.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ricky Holland and Marcus Fiesel

It often takes the death of an innocent child to bring reform to a broken system. 7-year-old Ricky Holland and 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel represent two lives that have been sacrificed. Ricky lived in Michigan, and Marcus in Cincinnatti, Ohio -- but their lives had many factors in common.

Ricky's foster parents were approved to adopt him
In Michigan, records show that social workers who checked on Ricky's welfare each month for three years praised his foster parents for doing a "wonderful job." They reported his condition as thriving.

When asked to describe the relationship between Ricky and the Hollands after his adoption, the state adoption worker reported that it was obvious that he "loves them dearly."

Meanwhile, neighbors wondered why Lisa Holland did not allow the children to play outside, and why they frequently heard the sound of babies crying. They wondered why Ricky scrounged for food. They wondered about a lot of things - but they didn't call and they didn't ask.

Marcus' foster mom was described as "perky" by social worker
In Ohio, the Carroll's were also living a duplicitous lifestyle. Foster father David Carroll had a lot to hide, including a domestic violence charge, a live-in girlfriend and evidence of a bipolar disorder.

Meanwhile, a Lifeway caseworker described Liz Carroll as "perky" and "unrushed," and said that Carroll never discouraged the case manager from seeing Marcus.

What else did the Hollands and Carrolls have in common?
1.) Multiple children living in the home: Both the Hollands and the Carrolls had multiple foster children. The Hollands had adopted three of Ricky's four siblings. The Carrolls had four children of their own, as well as another foster child.

2.) Allegations of husbands with mood swings.

3.) Domestic violence charges. Liz Carroll filed one against her husband. Tim Holland filed one against his wife.

4.) Involving the public in the search. Both the Hollands and the Carrolls lied in order to deceive the public. Marcus' foster parents reported him missing in a suburban park on August 15., 2006. They involved the public in the search, claiming that Marcus might have wandered off or been abducted. The Hollands reported Ricky missing on July 2, 2005.

4.) Murder and cover-up. Investigators believe that David Carroll burned Marcus' body repeatedly and tossed the remains in the Ohio River. Tom Holland was allegedly ordered by his wife to dispose of Ricky's body.

What happened to Ricky?
Ricky's body was found on January 27, 2006, six months after he had supposedly "run away from home." He had been wrapped in a sheet, and stuffed inside two garbage bags. According to the forensic pathologist, there is a distinct possibility that, when his body was first abandoned, Ricky was still alive.

In the Holland case, both spouses have turned upon each other. Neither will admit to killing the child. Tom claims his wife overmedicated Ricky. Forensic evidence demonstrates a pattern of abuse, violence and undernourishment, including fresh fractures to Ricky's upper body and face.

The Hollands have been charged with murder and first-degree child abuse.

What happened to Marcus?
In Ohio, the Carrolls wrapped Marcus in a blanket with his hands tied behind him. They taped him up like a mummy, and left him in a hot closet. Then, they left to celebrate a family reunion in Kentucky. When they returned, he was dead.

The Carrolls have been indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and two charges of child endangering.

The question remains...
Will Ricky and Marcus, and many other children in many other states whose lives have been sacrificed, be the catalyst for (true and lasting) change in foster care? It breaks my heart that even if change comes, they won't be around to see it...

Bouffard, Karen. Boy's death shows how state fails kids: Program designed to keep children with families can put youngsters such as 7-year-old Ricky in danger. Detroit News, Feb. 15, 2006.
Bouffard, Karen. Doctor: Ricky died a slow death. Detroit News, March 14, 2006.
Bouffard, Karen. Slain boy, siblings abused: State leaves kids with parents for months despite bruises, black eyes. Detroit News, Feb. 14, 2006.
Brooks, Candice. Lifeway Director: 'Nothing else we could have done' byt death may spark changes. Cincinnatti Post, Aug. 30, 2006.
Coolidge, Sharon. Far better off with God. Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 20, 2006.
Grasha, Kevin. Lisa Holland: I think Tim snapped. Lansing State Journal, March 18, 2006.
Kresnak, Jack. Parents may have hidden abuse of son. Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2006.
Kresnak, Jack. Records: Parents' deception shrouded years of abuse. March 10, 2006.
Kresnak, Jack. Reports say slain boy was thriving. March 17, 2007.
McLaughlin, Sheila. Lifeway leader defends agency. Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 1, 2006.
Range, Stacey. Wife would overmedicate boy, Holland says. Lansing State Journal, Sept. 6, 2006.