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.