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: http://www.childadvocates.org/

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: http://members.aol.com/fpallegations/

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.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Journalists who care about foster care

Recent postings have centered on Clark County, Nevada, and some of the atrocities taking place within their foster care system. Tonight, I want to focus my blog on a hopeful note, by celebrating some of the allies that exist for foster children and foster alumni.

Specifically this post is about some wonderful journalists who have voiced concerns about foster care. I wanted to list some great journalists, in alphabetical order by their last name.

Troy Anderson
Troy writes for the LA Daily News. He cares deeply about foster care.

The Family Rights Association has archived many of Troy's articles: http://www.familyrightsassociation.com/news/archive/troy_anderson/

If you want to thank Troy, you can email: troy.anderson@dailynews.com

Emily Bazelon
This Slate journalist wrote an excellent article for the New York Times titled "A Question of Resilience." In this article, Bazelon asks whether resilience is the product of biology or environment.

Are some people born with inherent traits that render then more capable of survival? Why, for example, do some foster youth succeed, while others seem forever scarred by their experiences?

Here is a link to the full-text of this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/magazine/30abuse.html?ex=1304049600&en=556898e2c03cc09d&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

Her contact information is: Emily.Bazelon@slate.com

Rochelle Riley
This columnist has written a series of columns for the Detroit Free Press on the challenges faced by youth who age out foster care:

January 11, 2006 - Aging out, but still in need
February 12, 2006 - Pushed out on her own at 18
April 2, 2006 - The biggest move is just ahead
April 7, 2006 - Her mission: Work to help other foster youths
April 14, 2006 - Former foster youths to the rescue
April 21, 2006 - Numbers tell youths' needs
June 14, 2006 - Build campus to help youth flourish
July 9, 2006 - John Parks: In between foster care and hopes of studying nursing

A more recent article of hers was published on August 11th: "Lawsuit complicates state's foster care improvements." All of these articles are available online.

Her email adddress is: rriley99@freepress.com

Alexandra Wax
"Alex" writes for the Houstonist and plans to become a foster parent someday.

You can visit www.houstonist.com to read her articles about foster care:
June 6, 2006: Movie-ready story spotlights Texas foster care
July 11, 2006. Jury to begin deliberations in foster vs. blood parental rights case
August 25, 2006: Another sad foster care story
August 28, 2006: CPS workers are the cure and the problem
August 31, 2006: Relatives who started boy get decades

Texas residents can contact her via: alex@houstonist.com

Friday, September 08, 2006

Where will the children go?

What is happening in Clark County is an atrocity, and deserves to be national news. Too often, high profile cases get attention - but not thorough attention.

The situation needs more than a superficial “quick fix.” It needs thoughtful and thorough examination, with an eye toward long-term reform.

This situation was not created overnight, but pressure is coming in from all directions to fix it "as soon as possible."

The focus on deadlines appears to be greater than the focus on effectiveness. What about fixing it as thoroughly as possible?

There seems to be a lack of overall vision. Reforms suggested are either like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound or like removing a faulty safety net without first putting another safety net in place.

Here are the questions that I have:

1.) Closing Child Haven: Okay. Where will the children go?

2.) Returning children quickly to their families: Didn't slowness to remove children from abusive situations (and eagerness to return them home as soon as possible) contribute to the high rate of child deaths in the first place?

Why didn't anyone listen three years ago?

In May 2003, a former foster parent named Glenn Campbell suggested that since Nevada's foster parent shortage had persisted for years, it might be time to accept this condition as permanent.

I think his comments ring true (even prophetic) to the situation today:
"The apparent "foster care crisis" is not what it seems. It isn’t a simple case of not having enough foster families. Organizational inefficiency may be overburdening the system. The various institutional options for placement have been neglected, while the recruiting of foster parents has been indiscriminate.

"Poorly screened and undersupervised foster families may ultimately cost more, both in monetary terms and in damage to the children, than no foster parents at all."

"If Clark County has had a shortage of foster families for years, then maybe it is time to face reality: This is how it is going to be.

"Maybe other states have an endless supply of high-quality foster care, but not us. The solutions that work for the rest of the country, like emphasizing foster care above all else, aren't necessarily our solutions.

"Although Nevada's laws and federal requirements are similar to those of other states, our culture is different. Las Vegas has a unique demographic profile of both child abuse offender and child victim.

"It has a certain community of potential volunteers — always smaller than the rest of the country’s — who are motivated by some appeals and not motivated by others. It also has a unique economy with a certain kind of philanthropic donor. DFS has been treating Las Vegas as though it was "Anytown USA," and I think that this viewpoint, in part, is why it has a foster crisis year after year.

"We have more than just files and paperwork at stake. If the child welfare system is not working as efficiently as possible with the resources it has, then children will continue to be unnecessarily abused by the system that is supposed to protect them."

No one was or is listening

Now, in September 2006, Darryl Martin, assistant county manager reports, "Right now, our greatest need is for additional foster families," said Darryl Martin, assistant county manager. "We need at least 400 to 500 new foster families. Our goal is not to have to have children at Child Haven."

The Children's Attorney Project's immediate goal is to find homes for the 55 infants and toddlers who currently reside at Child Haven, a community shelter.

I fully support that. Child Haven is unlicensed and ill-equipped to handle the teens and children in their care. There are no mental health services being provided. Due to overcrowding conditions, some children are forced to sleep on the gymnasium floor.

I wonder what will happen to the other children and teenagers who are currently housed at Child Haven?

Too bad that no one took Glenn Campbell's advice and started planning and implementing more more helpful and behaviorally-based group homes and institutions three years ago.

By what miracle is Clark County going to find foster homes for all of them? My guess is that recent news might discourage, rather than encourage foster parenting.

Take a look at some of the children in southern Nevada who need adoptive homes:

But, take heart at the power of their courage and survival:
19-year-old Jessicca Hoffmann lived in Child Haven with her brother and sister. She frequently volunteered to care for infants and toddlers in the infant room. Now, she publicly shares her experiences in Child Haven, in an effort to speak out for the children residing there now.

Blaize, Ashanti. Child Haven Faces More Legal Action. KLAS-TV News, Sep 7, 2006
Campbell, Glenn. Clark County Foster Care: Crisis and Solutions. May 31, 2005. PO Box 30303 Las Vegas, NV 89173. http://www.familycourtchronicles.com/report
Legal group to represent 58 children in Clark County care, Las Vegas Sun, September 07, 2006.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lawsuit against Clark County and the state of Nevada

"Clark County's child welfare system is in crisis. Virtually every aspect of the county's child protective services and foster care system is failing the children and youth it is charged with protecting."

Above is a direct quote from civil rights class action lawsuit brought by ten children on behalf of all abused and neglected children who either live in or risk entering the Clark County foster care system.

As of the date of this lawsuit, over 3600 children are in the legal custody of Clark County. These children currently reside in foster homes, group homes, kinship care placements (both licensed and unlicensed), shelters and institutions.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to compel Nevada and Clark County officials to meet their legal duties under federal and state law.

This lawsuit alleges that:

1.) Child Haven is unlicensed. There are no mental health services available. Due to to overcrowding, some children are sleeping on the gymnasium floor. Conditions have contributed to infectious disease.

2.) Social workers receive inadequate training and supervision. Many social workers' caseloads exceed those established by national standards. Child abuse reports filed by these social workers repeatedly fail to comply with state law and professional standards.

3.) Needs of youth are mismatched with foster parents' experiences and ability. Placements have been based solely on whether or not a "bed" was available. Because of this, placements often break down, and children experience frequent moves (foster homes, group homes, institutions).

4.) Poor communication with foster parents: Clark County DFS fails to provide foster parents with basic background information and supportive services needed by children that are placed in their home. Foster parents who advocate for the child in their home by requesting dental/medical/mental health services, have been retaliated against by Clark County DFS.

5.) Failure to monitor foster placements: Caseworkers fail to visit children in their foster placements, and therefore are not monitoring children's safety, risk factors, quality of care or access to services.

6.) Allowing children to remain in dangerous homes: Clark County DFS reportedly turns a deaf ear to complaints of abuse and neglect in foster homes.

Clark County DFS is responsible to screen, license, support and supervise foster homes. They are failing at this task. Because of this, foster parents are out there who should never have been licensed in the first place, or whose licenses should have been revoked.

7.) No voice for foster children in court: Clark County ignores the state and federal mandate to provide foster youth with a voice (CASA / guardian ad litem) during court proceedings.

Defendents in this lawsuit:
- Kenny C. Guinn, the Governor of Nevada
- Michael Willden, Director of Nevada DHHS
- Fernando Serrana, Administrator of State DCFS
- Paula A. Hawkins, Bureau Chief, Bureau of Services for Child Care
- The seven members of Clark County's Board of Commissioners
- Clark County (is accountable legally because its population is over 10,000)
- Virginia Valentine, Clark County Manager
- Clark County DFS
- Tom Morton, the Director of Clark County DFS
- Louis Palma, Manager of Shelter Care (oversight of all shelter facilities in Clark County)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

How can foster alumni pay for college?

What is ETV Funding?
Federal Chafee education and training vouchers provide financial assistance to youth who have aged out of foster care and are seeking additional educational opportunities. These funds can be spent at both college and technical schools.

How do students qualify?
- Must have aged out of foster care
- Must be enrolled in an accredited institution
- Must maintain at least at 2.0 GPA

What can these funds be spent on?
- Tuition at college/technical schools
- Rent and other living expenses
- School supplies, including textbooks and a computer
- Health care and child care

Where does OFA fit in?
Social workers and their departments are not set up to administer scholarship programs to emancipated youth.

Therefore, the Orphan Foundation of America works with several states to administer their ETV program and to ensure that foster alumni receive ETV assistance in accordance with federal law.

The following states have empowered OFA to administer ETV assistance: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.

In a recent survey, 92% of students gave high marks to the help they received from OFA.

Challenges that foster youth face in college:
1.) Financial pressures: As well as college, foster alumni need to be able to afford to pay for their rent, transportation and basic living expenses (electric, phone). If they have children, they need to be able to afford child care.

2.) Work conflicting with school: In the recent OFA survey, over 20% of participants reported that their class hours were inconvenient.

3.) Need for academic support: When asked how often they met with their academic advisors, two out of five students (40%) reported that they rarely or never met with their academic advisor. Nearly one quarter (27%) reported that they received poor or no academic advising.

4.) Social isolation: One in ten foster youth reported in the OFA Spring survey that they did not have an opportunity to become involved with other students. Nearly a fifth reported that there were few people with interests and backgrounds like their own.

23% of foster alumni reported feeling lonely, and stated that those feelings of loneliness were having a negative impact on school performance.

What helps foster youth to succeed in college?
1.) Healthy social relationships: Speaking from personal experience, I know that I found the family I never had through my involvement with campus organizations.

Therefore, I was not surprised to learn from the survey results that between 45-55% participated in campus organizations. Students reported serving meals, tutoring and mentoring. They participated in dramatic productions or athletic teams. One student taugh English as a second language.

2.) A sense of direction: 42% of foster youth reported that they needed additional support in navigating their school's administrative services. 61% reported that they needed career counseling. Foster youth need guidance in order to set and meet career goals.

Personally, I changed majors five times in college. I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do. Eventually, they all added up and made sense, and I ended up going for a Master's degree. But I figured this out the same way I made most of my decisions: alone.

1.) In order to make the best use of funds, ETV funding should be coordinated with other sources of funding assistance. Ideally, foster youth would receive a combination of funding sources that is sufficient to provide for both their living expenses and education.

2.) Don't overlook the need for mentoring and counseling: One quarter of the participants in OFA's survey reported their need for academic and mental health counseling.

For more information, please visit: www.statevoucher.org

"Spring 2006 Survey of (1204) OFA ETV Students." Orphan Foundation of America, July 5, 2006.