Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years Eve

I have been working all day to create a board game about the experience of aging out of foster care for an upcoming presentation.

Finally, I decided to take a break!

As I searched the Internet for foster care news, it was a happy surprise to me to find that I have been quoted on the website of the Kirpa Life Skills Training Center.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lisa and hubby at Winter Ball


Taking me to the Winter Ball was my husband's birthday present to me this year!

More pictures from the Winter Ball


Helen Jones-Kelley at the Winter Ball


ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley with Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services

Winter Ball

Voicing Independent Solutions in Our Neighborhoods youth advisory board

During my childhood, I participated in the same activities as my friends - but something happened when I entered the foster care system.

It was as if I were a different person. Suddenly, I became a “group home girl” and a “foster kid.” People treated me differently. They increased their restrictions and lowered their expectations.

Schools initially placed me in remedial classes, until records arrived to notify them that I was an Honors student.

While my oldest stepdaughter prepared for Homecoming this year, I looked through a photo album from my teenage years. It is filled with photographs of my friends from high school, all dressed up for dances that I was never allowed to attend.

Thankfully, there were staff members who advocated for me to participate in school activities, such as: Junior Miss, All-State Chorus tryouts, art competitions and school plays.

Not only did participation make me feel more “normal,” but it also impressed my college admissions counselor to allow me to start college when I was 16 years old.

It is the advocates in our lives who make a difference.

Thanks to the initiative of VISION youth advisory board and the support of Doris Edelmann and Stacia Burlingame, foster care youth in Ohio have their very own dance to attend. As a foster care alumna, it was my privilege to attend as well!

This year marked the third annual Winter Ball. The youth advisory board chose the colors, food, music and theme. ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley came to show her support. There were approximately 180 youth and 20 adults in attendance. Participants voted for a Winter Ball king and queen.

My wish for the New Year is that, in 2008, youth advisory boards in each of Ohio’s 88 counties will be empowered to create and implement activities like this one!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tips on creating a chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America




2007 Thanksgiving dinner at the Capitol
Photo by Gediyon Kifle


As co-founder of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, I've been asked by many people how to start a chapter in their area...

Misty Stenslie, Deputy Director of FCAA national, is the best resource for starting a chapter in your area.

Please follow this link to find out more about FCAA chapter charter, policies and procedures.

The Ohio chapter is available as a resource to you as well...

Here are some things that have worked for us:


1. Get in touch with foster care youth:
- Seek out local foster care youth advisory boards
- Find out what matters to them
- Develop presentations to smooth their transition to adulthood
- Partner with child welfare professionals to improve services to young people in/from foster care


Foster care youth of today are the alumni of tomorrow. They have fresh insights and passion to offer! And we older alumni can use our experience and expertise to support their current and future success!

2. Find your allies, such as:
- Local/statewide foster parent organizations
- Local/statewide independent living coordinators
- Social work professors at local universities
- Support groups for kinship caregivers


Many people within the child welfare field long to make a more powerful impact when it comes to foster care. Attend their meetings and tell them who you are and what FCAA is all about. The people who care most about our mission will be drawn to you!

3. Read the news:
- Find out who is speaking out about foster care
- Find out which journalists are interested in writing about foster care issues
- Research the local radio stations for future promotion opportunities


When we present ourselves as being knowledgeable about what's going on locally, statewide and nationally regarding foster care, this builds our credibility with others.

4. Share your voice:
- At local, statewide and national conferences
- In op-eds and interviews
- During brainstorming sessions about independent living classes and aftercare
- In discussions about foster care policy


'Nothing about us without us' is FCAA's motto.

When 'experts' hold discussions about changing child welfare policies, procedures and/or legislation, we should be there. And when youth entrust us with issues that are important to them, we should be their champions in any arena in which they may not be present.

As we continue to share our voice, other alumni will come along and stand beside us. This will give power to our message, because we will be sharing collectively. Opportunities will arise for us to empower them to take center stage, while we sit in the audience and cheer them on!

5. Never give up:
- There will be disagreements
- Sometimes you will feel discouraged
- You won't see the outcome of your efforts right away
- "It is possible to move a mountain by carrying away small stones"


What we are involved in is a foster care movement. Like the civil rights movement or the women's rights movement.

Movements don't take a day or a week or a month or a year. They can take a lifetime. And it is worth it, because members of Foster Care Alumni of America are determined to leave a legacy!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Foster children are not "pound puppies"


Caption: This is NOT a foster child!

In Omaha, Nebraska, a nineteen-year-old boy walked into a mall with a semi-automatic assault rifle, and killed eight people before turning the gun on himself.

He was immediately christened "a lost puppy."

This is ridiculous.

Robert Hawkins wasn't a puppy - or even more offensive "a pound puppy, he was a person.

Current and former foster children aren't pets - we are people:

1. We can't be sent away to kennels on holidays if group home staff or foster parents want to "just have friends over and have the place to myself."

2. We can't be kept on a leash, and as we enter into young adulthood, but rather should be allowed the freedom and support to build a positive circle of friends, often through involvement in sports or other school activities

3. And, unlike "dumb animals," we are responsible for our actions.

“To be truly free, we have to be accountable, to be able to answer for ourselves and our decisions” (Alan W. Jones, SoulMaking).

Robert Hawkins made a terrible choice. It was wrong; it was misguided - and it was irrevocable.

And it was selfish. In his suicide note, he said, "Now I'll be famous."

This is the type of action that perpetuates the stigma of foster care. Despite the stereotype, not every former foster child winds up being some type of criminal.

Many of us grow up to build families. We provide for our children in a way that we were not provided for... protect them in a way that we were not protected. We work to learn new patterns of behavior so that we will not repeat the cycle of abuse.

Many of us strive to make a positive difference for the 'next generation' of foster children.

For example, during the week of Thanksgiving, members of Foster Care Alumni of America from all over the country met with Congressional representatives and then had a Thanksgiving dinner on the Capitol lawn, in order to propose positive changes to improve the foster care system.

Over 1000 media outlets were contacted about this event -- and the turnout was much less than I had expected.

In the meantime, there are countless articles about this tragedy.

It's saddens me that destructive behavior attracts more press coverage than proactive action.

Transition From Foster Care to Adulthood Wiki

This Wiki provides information about state law and practice regarding the transition of young people from foster care to adulthood.

Promoting Youth Voice in Child Welfare Systems


The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning has compiled several resources to assist child welfare professionals with promoting youth voice.


In addition, the National Resource Center for Youth Development Toolkit for Youth Involvement provides important information on how to prepare youth and adults to work in partnership to improve the nation's child welfare system.

National CASA Association


The National CASA Association knows that, in dependency courts, a child's health and safety should be the primary concern.

A recent audit conducted by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General demonstrated that the involvement of a CASA volunteer can keep children from languishing in long-term foster care or reentering the child welfare system.

According to this audit:

- All or most of CASA volunteer recommendations are accepted in four out of five cases.

- When a CASA volunteer is assigned, a higher number of services are ordered for children and families.

- Children with a CASA volunteer are more likely to be adopted.

- A child with a CASA volunteer is as likely to be reunified with their birth parent as a child without a CASA volunteer.

- With a CASA volunteer, the likelihood that a chilld will reenter the child welfare system is consistently reduced by half.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Congressional Foster Youth Internship Program






Every year, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute offers summer internship opportunities for talented college students who have spent their formative years in foster care.

Participants will intern at Capitol Hill. Their housing and travel expenses will be provided for by a stipend. Ongoing support will be provided, including an initial orientation, ongoing training and a mid-summer retreat.

Applications must be postmarked by Jan. 4, 2008, and sent to:

311 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 544-8501 Fax

For more information, please contact info@ccainstitute.org or call(202)544-8500.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My husband's strange and mysterious world


I was sent home sick from work today…

Flushed and feverish, I found comfort in my husband’s arms.

He wrapped me up in the warmth of his cuddles until I fell into a deep and restful sleep.

I awoke to hear music at high volume. My husband, a talented musician and songwriter, was downstairs jamming his guitar full-blast along with recordings of his songs.

I lay in bed, listening to him strum his chords and sing his lyrics.

It just cracks me up that while I am out there saving the world, he is in our house, working from home, typing on his computer, playing WOW, and then picking up his guitar to create music that is out of this world.

This is the world that my husband has created. This is the oasis that I come home to every day...

Some of the songs he has written are about me...

Some of his songs were what made me fall in love with him in the first place...


There are so many reasons why I love this strange and wonderful man that I have married, and all the strange and wonderful things that he has brought into my life…

Including: His sitcoms, his technology, his Beatles obsession, his wry and astute commentary about life, his sarcasm and sometimes inappropriate humor, his strength, his razor-sharp intelligence, his sexy profile...

Here are the links to some of my favorite songs of his:

Apple Girl: (which he wrote for his daughters)
http://www.dicksonaudio.com/applegirl

Gunk: (which I think is his most polished and amazingly deep song)
http://www.nathansbrain.com/archives/2006/08/gunk.html

Have You Seen My Sunshine: (because I’m his ‘sunshine girl’)
http://www.nathansbrain.com/archives/2006/07/have_you_seen_m.html#comments

There are many others... but those are the ones that I am thinking of right now (probably because he just jammed all of them!)

For more silly songs of us, please see:
http://nofearinlove.com/songs/index.htm

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The past is not through with you


There is a powerful quote from the movie Magnolia: "You might be through with the past, but the past is not through with you..."

During my involvement in Foster Care Alumni of America, certain people and situations come up from time to time that remind me of my past...

When I first aged out of foster care, I started college.

The year was 1989; I was sixteen years old. I had never been trained in independent living skills. I didn't know how to cook or budget or drive.

But, worst of all, I had no 'common sense.'

Common sense isn't born into most people. It is something that your mother or father teaches you.

And so, lacking all common sense, during my second year in college when I was 17 years old, I had a roommate named "Janice" (not her real name). We knew each other from an earlier group home.

Janice was hard as nails on the outside, with a fragile and broken interior that it seemed like only I could see.

I tried to rescue her, but I couldn't save her from her worst enemy: herself.

I couldn't keep her from numbing out on sex and drugs, becoming a prisoner to both, stealing to feed her habit, eroding her own conscience -- and eventually stealing from me.

Six months later, when I was broke and homeless, and she had stolen my last $50, I realized that I had to cut ties with her. I had to find a way to survive, and get back on my feet again. I needed to finish college, earn a graduate degree, establish a career, and build a future for myself.

So, I finally left Janice to sink or swim for herself. But she didn't make it. She sank like a stone.

Her life is a cautionary tale: Janice became a stripper, had several children out of wedlock and was eventually murdered by one of her 'clients.' Her children were placed in foster care. Did I mention that Janice's mother had been a prostitute? And, so the cycle repeated all over again.

It broke my heart to find out what had happened to her.

It was January 1996 when the story came out in the papers.
I was in graduate school at the time. I was wracked by survivor guilt.

I blamed myself for not giving her another chance. And so I became the Lisa that I am today. The Lisa who always wants to give people in and from foster care one more chance...

Sometimes that means that I get taken advantage of. And so, as an adult, I have to force myself to set limits with other people. This can be the hardest lesson. The book Boundaries has been invaluable to me.

Because there is a person in my life right now who is hard as nails on the outside, but through that shell, I can see a fragile interior. I can see the many times she has been wounded. I can tell the outlines of the scars.

And yet, she has been taking advantage of me - and I have to confront the situation, both for myself and for this other person. It's not healthy for either one of us.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month

Walk A Mile

Walk a Mile has been pairing policymakers with teenagers in foster care since 1994.

It's a one-month project to raise awareness about the challenges facing young people in foster care, wherein policymakers are paired with a young person living in foster care.

This program has been successfully implemented in 36 states, including Ohio.

Walk A Mile is currently looking for community organizations working with young people in foster care to coordinate 2008 projects. For more information, please e-mail patricia@walkamile.org

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Press Release from Hillary Clinton

Senator Clinton introduces legislation to provide
support for youth 'aging out' of foster care

For Immediate Release
Contact: Clinton Press Office 202-224-2243 or press_office@clinton.senate.gov

Washington, DC — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced legislation today to provide individual development accounts to youth ‘aging out’ of foster care. The Focusing Investments and Resources for a Safe Transition (FIRST) Act provides foster youth financial support for critical independent living needs as they set out to develop self-sufficient, goal-oriented lives beyond the child welfare system. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Mary Landrieu are original cosponsors of the legislation.


“The needs of foster youth do not end after they leave the foster care system, and neither should our commitment to assisting them become productive and independent adults,” Senator Clinton said. “This legislation will provide a bridge to adulthood for some of our most vulnerable young people. I will continue to advocate for them and for this bill.”

Research indicates that youths aging out of foster care fare worse than their counterparts in the general population on a variety of social, educational, and health indicators. These youths report significantly lower levels of education and are more likely to be unemployed or homeless. Research also shows that foster youth do not receive the life skills education they need in order to be independent after aging out of the child welfare system.

The FIRST Act addresses this problem by providing foster youths with savings accounts so they can have funds set aside specifically for overcoming obstacles to independent living. The accounts will contain a federal deposit on behalf of foster youth matched by public and private community partners. After transitioning from foster care and completing money management training, youths would be able to withdraw these savings to pay for necessities such as educational opportunities, vocational training, and housing – elements critical for achieving self-sufficiency.

The bill follows the lead of smaller scale programs in cities and states all over the country. A program currently being piloted in New York City, Youth Financial Empowerment, will provide 450 New York City foster youths with Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs. Similarly, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Passport program offers IDAs to foster youth in several cities.

For more than 30 years, Senator Clinton has been a champion of efforts to help children in foster care and those aging out of the foster care system. As First Lady of the United States, Senator Clinton led numerous efforts to increase awareness about and support for youth aging out of foster care, and to increase the number of children who are adopted out of foster care.

Senator Clinton worked towards passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which has more than doubled the number of children adopted out of foster care, and the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, which doubled funding for the Federal Independent Living Program and helps older foster care children earn a high school diploma, participate in vocational training or education, and learn daily living skills. The legislation also requires states to serve youth up to 21 years old, which enables more young people to obtain a college education and allows states to provide financial assistance to these youth as they learn skills to enter the workforce. Finally, the bill allows states to extend health insurance coverage under Medicaid for foster care youth to age 21.

In the Senate, Clinton has worked to further increase the number of adoptions out of foster care by providing additional incentives for adopting older children and those with special needs and increasing the Adoption Tax Credit. She also has introduced legislation with Senator Olympia Snowe that would support relative caregivers who often offer stable, loving homes to children who would otherwise be in foster care.

In 2002, the Senator introduced the Opportunity Passport Act, which, among other provisions, called for the establishment of IDAs for youth aging out of foster care. In July 2007, the Senate passed the Higher Education Amendments of 2007 which included a measure championed by Senator Clinton to expand the definition of independent students to include youth in foster care, aging out of foster care or emancipated minors.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Waiting for Adoption



As one of the featured writers for Rainbow Kids Voices of Adoption, I wanted to let my readers know about free tools available on their website.

A Place to Call Home Act


As we approach Thanksgiving, it is important to remember the 3 million young people in the United States who lack safe places to live.

The National Network for Youth is championing legislation to prevent and end youth homelessness.

They posted an action alert on the Youth Policy Action Center asking concerned adults to contact elected officials with the message that every young American needs a place to call home.

For more information on how to speak out for homeless youth, please visit Project Street and learn more about the "A Place to Call Home Act."

Foster Families Use Your Voice

Navigating the Maze: Foster Parenting and Life: Foster Families Use Your Voice

My thanks goes out to foster parents and child welfare professionals who recognize the capabilities and potential of children in your care -- and are courageous enough to fight for them to receive support and services.

Please tell me more about experiences in advocating for foster children:

1.) Examples of when it has been successful
2.) Roadblocks when it hasn't
3.) Techniques that you have found to be most effective


Your insights will be used in a 2008 conference to 'train the trainers' of every county foster parent and social worker in my state. The information that you share can be anonymous.

Looking forward to hearing from you...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Miss Lisa Goes To Washington




During the week of Thanksgiving, members of
Foster Care Alumni of America from all over the nation will visit 25 members of the US Congress and promote flexibility regarding child welfare finance.

The government served as our parents, and now we are coming home for the holidays.

- We represent the 115,000 foster children waiting to be adopted this Thanksgiving.

- We represent over 20,000 teenagers who age out of foster care every year and are left to fend for themselves.

- We represent siblings who have been separated and kinship care providers who are not given adequate support.

Flexible funding might make a positive difference by helping to prevent the need for foster care for some children, and moving others to safe, permanent families more quickly.

The way that the system is currently set up, states lose money if they decrease the number of children in foster care.

Ohio Senator Mike DeWine has said that with federal funds, “The government gets what it pays for…if the funds can only be used to place children in foster families, that’s how agencies will tackle the problem.”

The message that I personally want to send Congress is balanced and three-tiered.

1.) Prevent entry into foster care (if possible)
2.) Find permanent families (whenever possible)
3.) Provide after care and resources (no matter what)

Because the fact is that some families can heal and reunify - and others cannot. Some reunifications are successful, and others lead to reentry into the foster care system (often due to lack of aftercare). Some relatives provide safety and security - and others do not.

Some foster parents have a heart for teenagers - and others do not. Some agencies have a sufficient number of foster families willing to take teenagers - and others end up sending teens to residential placements and group homes because there is 'no room at the inn.'

But regardless of any precipitating factors, our 'parent' (the Government) has a responsibility to provide help to us after we age out of care.

After we 'emancipate.'
After we 'are terminated.'
After we are no longer in the custody of Children Services.
After we are 'not their problem,' we are still their responsibility.


Because my stepdaughters are my children forever. After they turn 18, and enter college, whenever they need help, I as the parent have a responsibility to them.

I know that, when I sit at the Thanksgiving table on Capital lawn in Washington D.C. looking at the two empty seats at the head of the table 'in loco parentis,' that is what I will be thinking of...

Our efforts are made possible due to our partnerships with the Kids are Waiting campaign, FosterClub, Casey Family Programs and Florida’s Children First.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Miracle Makers led to adversity






New York Times photographer Ozier Muhammed captured this moment after the young lady on the right was forced to wait nine years to be adopted by her foster mom (on right), due to ineptitude by the Miracle Makers foster care agency.


New York City paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to Miracle Makers foster care agency as per their contract to provide classes in independent living.

Yet when a 16-year-old client who was preparing to age out of foster care tried to enroll in one of those classes, she found out the truth: The independent living workshops did not exist. They had not been offered for over a year.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what was uncovered in the New York Times' investigation...

New York City officials had no reason to believe that Willie Wren, founder of Miracle Makers, was qualified to lead a foster care agency in the first place. He was a church deacon with no experience working in foster care.

Yet, in 1986, city officials approached Mr. Wren, telling him that they were flooded with abandoned children, due to drugs, AIDS homelessness and teenage pregnancy, and calling on him to help.

The staff and board members of Miracle Makers were equally unqualified. The board consisted of a pastor, a homemaker and a bank employee, none of whom had social work training or experience. Board members did not evaluate Mr. Wren’s performance, approve budgets or receive copies of financial statements.

The agency was staffed by family members of its founder; his wife, his niece, his sister and his sister-in-law. Additional staff members, recruited from the general public, reported lack of training.

How did Miracle Makers end up turning into a multi-million dollar agency?

For the most part, this was because its services were not subject to regulation. In 1991, the city’s foster care oversight committee was disbanded and replaced with cursory evaluations. While this might have saved the city money in the short-term, in the long-term this decision did nothing to safeguard the safety of children.

And so Miracle Makers continued to exist – and even expand.

The warning signs were evident:

1.) A letter from the State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities in 2001, citing serious flaws in its housing program for the mentally handicapped

2.) The results of EQUIP(Evaluation and Quality Improvement Protocol system) revealed that Miracle Makers was in last place regarding foster care; the waiting time to reunify children or free them for adoption was longest and their program to prepare teenagers for the adult world rated a zero.

Miracle Makers continued to finish at or near the bottom for the next three years.

3.) An investigation of Miracle Makers uncovered: huge caseloads, lax hiring practices, poorly supervised staff, poorly trained supervisors, unqualified administrators and an ineffectual board.

4.) Miracle Makers bounced at least 280 checks, costing their agency thousands of dollars in overdraft fees (one month, the overdraft fees totaled $2,340). Apparently no one on staff was trained in basic bookkeeping principles and funds for various programs were intermingled.

5.) Miracle Makers claimed to have spent $2,399 on Palm Pilots for pre-kindergarten children. Yet, when questioned by the city’s Education Department about why these devices were considered appropriate for such young children, the agency claimed to have ‘lost’ the Palm Pilots.

My greatest concerns are for the children and teenagers being ‘served’ by this ineffectual agency, such as:

- Two children who weren’t given counseling after being sexually abused, because of staff turnover and a foster mother who kept missing appointments

- One girl who was forced to languish in the agency’s care for nine years before being adopted by her foster mother. Miracle Makers did not file the petition to terminate her abusive father’s rights. Nor did they respond when the court threatened the agency with arrest for not showing up at hearings.

- Miracle Makers lost the documents necessary to terminate parental rights for another child, and as a result, she is still in foster care. In another case, staff neglected to read the birth certificate, and wasted time and resources proceeding against a man who was not the biological father.

To read more, please visit my source:
Weiser, Benjamin. City slow to act as hope for foster children fails. New York Times, Nov. 6, 2007.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month



November is National Adoption Awareness Month, reminding us all to be aware of the 114,000 children in the United States who are waiting to be connected with adoptive families.

This year's theme is Adopting Teenagers from Foster Care. Teens in the foster care system are statistically the least likely to be adopted - yet they need love and stability as much as children.

As a former foster child and current stepmom to two teenage girls, I can testify on many levels that the teenage years are challenging, and that providing emotional support and physically stability is vitally important.

How can you make the most out of National Adoption Awareness Month?

- Learn more about the Adoption Incentives Program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program.

- Participate in Local Events.

- Contact your State Adoption Specialist.

Additional activity options are listed on the Adoption Month Calendar.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Please support the Boxer Bill


Picture of Mark Kroner of Lighthouse Youth Services, who is one of my personal heroes!


For most young people,
graduating from high school marks an important step forward in their life as young adults.

But for young people aging out of the foster care system, this transition can result in a step back into their abusive pasts.

With no support available, they have no other option than to return to their families - the same families from which they were originally removed due to abuse or neglect.

If the state is a parent, during the ‘young adult’ stage of life, this parent often goes AWOL, and young people emerging from the foster care system find themselves being abandoned once more.

Mark Kroner of Lighthouse Youth Services recently wrote Senator George Voinovich, urging him to consider co-sponsoring Senator Barbara Boxer’s legislative initiative, The Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act, S1512.

The Boxer bill recommends extending the foster care system until age 21. Many other states have already done this, thereby taking better care of their older foster youth than we are in Ohio.

After running an Ohio Independent Living program for youth aging out of the foster care system for the past 21 years, Mark Kroner has worked with thousands of youth in this situation. He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that these young people are not ready to take over full responsibility for themselves at age 18, as is the current reality in Ohio.

Statistically, half of young adults ages 18-24 in the general population in the United States live at home with their parents, according Children's Rights. And yet every year, 20,000 of the 542,000 children in foster care nationwide "age out" of foster care and are expected to transition successfully to the adult world.

Supporting foster youth until age 21 isn’t just ethical – it is also practical.

A 2005 report by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago found that young people who were allowed to remain in foster care beyond the age of 18 were 200 % more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma and 300% more likely to be in college. They were also more likely to be insured, have better mental health and far less likely to be victims or perpetrators of crime and violence.

As a former foster child, who aged out of foster care at age 16 without family support, I am fully in support of the following recommendations by Lighthouse Family Services:

1.) Young people aging out of foster care should be offered a continuum of child welfare living arrangement options, including scattered site apartments, supervised apartments, host homes, dormitories and subsidized housing.

2.) Recommendations regarding ongoing housing for youth in transition include:

* Local control of funding to decide what is best for its community

* State licensing of agencies to provide housing with Child Welfare System oversight of individual housing choices

* Flexible housing options: the creation of local housing continuums based on local realities

* Geographic flexibility: the ability for youth to live in neighborhoods of their choosing

* Second moves/chances to try again after an eviction or discharge from care

* The ability to return to a variety of living arrangements at any time until age 21

* The ability for youth to take over lease/remain in current living arrangement after discharge

* Realistic planning and expectations/individualized rules

* Collaboration with MH, MRDD, CD, Correctional systems

* Movement into Shelter Plus Care for people with MH issues

* A local transition planning committee who oversees the entire transition system and pushes for needed changes

Saturday, October 20, 2007

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





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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workshop Selections (same in morning and afternoon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

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



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


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

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

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

1.) In By Chance, Out By Choice

This activity shared portions of a play by Kamika Whetstone.

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

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

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

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

2.) Foster Youth and the Juvenile Justice System

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

3.) Biological Parents and College Students from Foster Care

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

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

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

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

4.) Navigate Your Own Success As An Advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All four of these workshops were creative and memorable.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption


During the month of October, Wendy's will be selling Trick or Treat Gift Books as part of an annual fundraising effort to support the Wendy's Wonderful Kids program, via the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

For just a dollar, each Wendy's Gift Book contains coupons for ten Junior Frosty's ($8.90 value). That's less than nine cents per coupon, which makes this a good deal for you -- and an opportunity to help some of the 513,000 children who are waiting for families within the United States foster care system.

One example of how funds are spent:
The North Carolina Children's Home Society received two Wendy's Wonderful Kids grants this year, each funding a staff position focused on finding permanent families for an identified group of children awaiting adoption.

As a result, 15 children were linked with adoptive homes.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern





































I've always been a "save the world" kind of person.

As a child, from the first time I learned about history, all I could think of was the atrocities that had occurred, such as slavery, the Holocaust, poor treatment of Native Americans, etc. and how much I wished I could have been there to fight the evil and make a positive difference.

As an adult, I have focused my passions on one area: foster care. This seems to be the area wherein I can make the most impact, and for which my personal and professional experiences have prepared me.

Yet, even when narrowing your focus to just the foster care arena, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. A very dear friend of mine was brought to tears during the It's My Life conference, because she heard so many stories of pain in a row...

The best help that I have ever received in this area is from the book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In this book, he talks about your "circle of influence" and "circle of concern."

Just speaking for me personally, my circle of concern is HUGE. I care about every person in and from foster care... and that is one big circle!

But, the secret is to be faithful within your circle of influence. Do the very best job you can with every opportunity that is offered you to make a positive difference in the child welfare system, and two things will happen:

1.) Your efforts will make a positive ripple effect that affects the larger circle

2.) Your circle of influence will widen


That's definitely what has happened with me.

My involvement in Foster Care Alumni of America has literally changed my life, because we represent a collective voice and collective effort. We are a national organization that is constantly changing, growing and making additional connections.

And I love being a part of this movement!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Childhood Sexual Abuse






Postcard created by an alumna of foster care, as part of an ongoing postcard project by Foster Care Alumni of America.






Sexual Abuse in Foster Care
In the general public, physical abuse of children occurs twice as often as sexual abuse.

Within the foster care system, however, foster care youth and alumni report experiencing sexual abuse at a higher than physical abuse.

While there are no significant gender differences regarding physical abuse or neglect in foster care settings, studies have demonstrated that girls are at greater risk for sexual abuse within the foster care system.

Eighty-five women between the ages of 18-25 years old participated in a study supported by the Orphan Foundation of America:

- 65% of participants reported a history of sexual abuse.
- 35% reported experiencing that abuse during their time in foster care.


Not surprisingly, participicants who experienced sexual abuse both at home and in foster care settings demonstrated the highest rate of self-blame, feelings of betrayal and powerless, and stigmatization.

Fearing the Victim
Foster and adoptive parents are concerned about their ability to meet the needs of these young people. They worry about the risk to other children who live in their homes. They fear being subject to allegations themselves.

Girls with a history of sexual abuse are subject to twice as many placement changes as girls without a history of sexual abuse. They are more likely to be housed in group homes and residential placements.

How to Care for Victims of Sexual Abuse
1.) Close supervision: Children often imitate what they have experienced, and live out what they know. If a child's first introduction to touching was sexual touching, that child might inadvertently pass on the abuse to other children.

2.) Effective sexual education: Young people who have been exposed to too much, too soon, often had the physical experience without truly understanding what was going on. What they do know about sex has been horribly distorted.

3.) Modification of inappropriate behaviors: Victims of abuse need to learn how to set healthy boundaries for physcially relating to other people. Often, their response to touch leaps to polar extremes, between fear and fascination.

4.) Therapeutic attention to the child's deeper unmet needs: It is vital to have a thorough understanding of the young person's history, so that their current behaviors are seen in the context of past trauma and experiences.

Ideally, foster parents would be given the information they need in order to prepare their home. A study funded by the Department of Health showed that in order half the cases, the sexual abuse history of children was not shared with their foster caregavers.

Even in cases where this information was shared, the extent, severity and identity of the abuser was often omitted from the case files.

Source:
(2007) Breno, Anjey and Galupo, M. Paz. Sexual abuse histories of young women in the U.S. child welfare system: A focus on trauma-related beliefs and resilience, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2007, Vol. 16 Issue 2, p97-113.

(2003) Farmer, Elaine and Pollock, Sue. Managing sexually abused and/or abusing children in substitute care. Child & Family Social Work, May2003, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p101-112.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What's Lisa been up to lately?

I want to apologize to my readers for somewhat neglecting my blog...

Here are some of the things that I've been involved in lately, as part of my involvement with Foster Care Alumni of America:

1.) Preparing to present at the national It’s My Life Conference. The conference’s 700 attendees will include youth, alumni and social work professionals from across the nation. Registration is already full.

2.) Serving on the planning committee and preparing to present at a statewide independent living conference.

Our goals are to create an environment for foster care youth and alumni to exchange insights with child welfare professionals, to provide information for participants to use in their daily work/personal lives, and to promote current “Best Practices” in our state – including the effective use of Chafee and TANF IL funding.

3.) Preparing to moderate a foster care workshop and work with homeless youth to create a documentary to be shared at a statewide youth housing conference.

4.) Working with a university professor and many other valuable allies on a statewide independent living survey, targeting 10 counties in my state. What kinds of pre-/post-emancipation services are young people in the foster care system receiving? (Or not receiving?)

5.) Being invited to present in 2008 at an annual trainer event, wherein the 200-300 attendees will be the trainers of every social worker and every foster parent in my state.

6.) Laying the groundwork to establish a mentoring program in my city in 2008, wherein foster care youth are paired with alumni.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Five Blog Entries That Make Me Think

I was recently asked to post five blog entries that make me think...

To be honest, most of the stuff that elicits my thoughts and concerns winds up either on this blog, or on my Favorite Quotes or Fostering Intimacy blogs.

However, there have been five blog entries that sparked my interest lately, although they are from just two people!

Here they are:
Less of Paige: Children are not puppies
Less of Paige: Job Requirements for the Hardest Job on Earth
Back in Skinny Jeans: That I would be good
Back in Skinny Jeans: Perfect depression: Your soul is warning you
Back in Skinny Jeans: Trapped in fat and thin

Friday, September 07, 2007

Former foster kids and our obligations

Recently, a thoughtful and talented friend of mine, whom I greatly respect, asked me:

"Do you think those of us who have been in foster care should feel obligated to be a foster parent for a little bit?"

I started to reply, but my answer got so long that I decided to write a blog entry about it!

I believe that those of us who are in and from foster care should take the Maslow approach:

1.) First and foremost, we have to physically and emotionally survive loss, chaos and often unsafe living conditions. It breaks my heart to read newspaper articles about children who die in foster care or at the hands of abusive bio-parents.

2.) Second, after aging out of care, we have build a base of resources for ourselves. Food to eat. A place to sleep. A plan for the future, such as education and/or a job.

It's okay to try to help other people, and I certainly did at the time.

However, at this point it's sort of like being on a plane and putting the airmask on yourself first, before trying to help the person sitting next to you. If you run out of oxygen, you will perish, and you will not make it to help anybody else.

3.) Third, allow ourselves time to heal. This takes time. It cannot be rushed. And we can't take other people further along the path of healing than we have made it ourselves.

Again, it is okay to help other people during this process -- but it's also wise to build friendships with "not-needy" people. People who might seem sheltered, and at first difficult to relate to because they seem so unfamiliar.

Why befriend these unfamiliar people? If they care about us, they can be part of our circle of restorative relationships.

Speaking as a stepmom, it was hard to be a mother, when I had only distant memories of having a mother myself. One thing that helped was the fact that my friends from college had invited me to spend holidays with them, and those trips gave me a glimpse into another world.

Also, let's be honest, and I am speaking from personal experience here, if you have problems and all of your friends have problems, it's easy to start thinking that the whole world is this DARK and desolate place, with nothing but problems.

And that might feel true, but it's simply not an accurate picture of the world.

As Jack Nicholson sardonically put it in the movie As Good As It Gets: "It's not true. Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car."

In college, I tended to drift back and forth between friendships with the pretty story, boat-floating, noodle salad people, and my other friends whose boatless, noodle-salad-less lives were more familiar.

I think most all of us who have been in foster care have a deep desire to help others. That is a big part of the premise of what Foster Care Alumni of America is based upon... The entire national organization is rooted in phone calls and interviews with 1600 foster care alumni who all wanted to give back and help 'the next generation.'

But how we choose help is up to each one of us, individually:

- Some of us might (and do) choose to be foster parents.
- Others adopt.
- Others have children of their own, and choose not to continue the cycle of abuse that we experienced as children.
- Many of us volunteer our time and advocate for change.


Just as I believe that there's no "one size fits all" approach to families that break down, there's no "one map" to how we alumni should function as adults either.

The beauty and the glory of foster care alumni is that we each bring our talents, insights, creativity, gifts and passion to the table. We are each very unique - and I love that!

So.... that's my take. I must confess to not always taking my own advice. In college, there were times when I spent my grocery money on other people and then had to make do with condiments from the student center. Really goofy, silly things like that, because I really - really - really wanted to help everyone.

But this is how I feel about it, looking back from an adult perspective.


What do YOU think?

Monday, September 03, 2007

An Interesting Point of View

I've been meaning to link to this blog for quite some time:
http://evlogeite.com/?p=143

Please respect the blogger's wishes as per his request to me:
Lisa, I don’t at all mind you linking this entry on your blog. I have visited your blog, and it is really very good. I hope that everyone who runs across this will do the same. I would also be happy to participate in comments on your site.

May I ask one favor? I know that as a former foster child your perspective is vastly different than the one I expressed in this entry. For about seven years I represented the child advocates in my area, and I also represent DSS from time to time, so I know how very different perspectives can be.


So my favor is this: this entry was written primarily as a theological meditation, although it reflects real life. While I certainly don’t mind a vigorous debate about my outlook on your blog, I would prefer that the focus here remain on the theological lessons.

As such, if your readers should come here and have disagreements with what I said, I ask only that they return to your blog to express those views, as opposed to having that debate here. Silly, I know, but if people could humor me I would be very grateful.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Have you ever considered becoming a vMentor?

Do you care about the plight of young people in and from the foster care system? Maybe you would like to help in some way, but don't know where to start? Perhaps you lead such a busy life, that you worry about taking on a new commitment that you might not be able to juggle?

Why not consider becoming a vMentor to a high school student in foster care or young person who has just aged out of the foster care system and is now navigating his or her way through college?

I became a virtual mentor through the Orphan Foundation of America last year, and over the past 13 months, it has been an absolute joy getting to know my mentee. At first, it took time to get the conversation going! But, after we built a base of trust, my mentee began to share more about her goals and insights - and the experience has been invaluable.

Requirements:
Virtual mentors must be 25 years or older. Mentors are screened through an initial process, including a background check, before being matched with a mentee by OFA staff. A two-year commitment is requested.

Ensuring A Safe Atmosphere:
All emails between you and your mentee must take place on the vMentor portal, in order to maintain a secure and safe setting.

Providing Support and Resources:
Through the vMentor portal, you can not only correspond with your mentee, but if you need assistance, you can contact one of the two mentee support personnel. There are content experts available to provide their expertise on legal issues, counseling, parenting and practical skills. Every month, training for vMentors is provided via a conference call, and the notes from these trainings are available via the vMentor portal.

Need for Male Mentors:
Due to the success of the virtual mentoring program, during 2006, there were average of 250 active mentor-mentee matches at a time. However, there is a great need for male mentors. OFA is currently trying to match 26 male youth who are new to the program, and have only 13 male mentors who aren't already matched.

For more information, please visit: http://www.vmentor.com/

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How statewide YAB goals fit into a national perspective

Created on May 2006 and revised in July 2006, the O.H.I.O. (Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio) youth advisory board have come up with a list of recommendations regarding the child welfare system.

I have summarized these goals, linking each item to additional articles and/or resources in order to fit their goals within a larger perspective.

1.) Having their voice heard in court: Young people 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. After all, any adult would want to meet with his / her lawyer before a trial.

2.) Agencies need to provide more opportunities to gain hands-on, real life experience, such as paying bills, managing a checking account, obtaining housing, and accessing public transportation, so that young people will be prepared to transition out of foster care.

3.) Normalcy:

- Foster parents need the authority to make certain decisions for foster youth, such as whether or not the youth can spend the night at a friend’s house, whether they can leave the county, if they can date, etc.

- Foster youth need to complete driver’s education prior to their release, or prior to aging out of foster care.

4.) Keep siblings together whenever possible. Maintain strong, regular contact between siblings and other kin when placed apart.

5.) 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.

6.) Young people in the foster care system desire opportunitities to share 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.

7.) Foster youth want the homes in which they are placed to be safe.

They recommend that foster parents participate in training, meet strict qualifications and be evaluated on an ongoing basis. They also recommend that foster parents be observed actually interacting with youth before being granted a license.

Additional Resources
Gilpatrick, Breanne. Foster kids call for the right to drive: Legal hurdles could derail a proposal intended to make it easier for foster children to obtain their driver's licenses. Miami Herald.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Will the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act be retroactive?

My friend and her sister were adopted by a couple who also adopted two other sibling groups (making six adopted children total in their household).

Then, this couple divorced --- and in the aftermath, neither has stepped up to the mat to support my friend during her college years. Will the Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act apply to her? Is it retroactive?

My friend is 20 years old, and a sophomore in college -- and she is facing these challenges on her own. I wonder if this legislation will or will not apply retrospectively to her?

On July 20, 2007, the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 passed the Senate by a vote of 78-18, increasing college access and affordability by boosting financial aid.

The Fostering Adoption to Further Student Achievement Act, was introduced by Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to amend the Higher Education Access Act. It is intended to encourage the adoption of older children by not forcing a teenager to choose between a loving family and financial aid.

Current law allows youth who "age out" of the foster care system to qualify for virtually all college loans and grants, while essentially penalizing those who are adopted.

The Coleman-Landrieu amendment expands the definition of "independent student" as defined in current law to include youth in foster care who are adopted after their tenth birthday. This allows a student's financial aid eligibility to be determined solely by that student's ability to pay, regardless of his or her adoptive family's income level, since many families who adopt teenagers and pre-teens may have done so without being able to shoulder the entire burden of college tuition.

"Education and a loving family are two key components of a child's mental and emotional development. No child should have to choose between the two," said Senator Coleman.

"Under current law, adopted teenagers lose out on some or all college financial aid for which they would otherwise have been eligible, depending on his or her adopted parents' financial situation. I applaud the Senate for passing our amendment to alleviate this discrepancy and encourage teen and pre-teen adoption."

"It is unacceptable for students to receive less financial aid merely because they were adopted," Senator Landrieu said.

"Restricting the financial aid opportunities of adopted teens unfairly penalizes them simply for seeking the love and stability that only a family can offer. This amendment corrects such unwise law by allowing adopted children to receive the financial help they need to attend college and realize their full potential."

Source: Press release by the National Foster Parent Association

Friday, August 10, 2007

Foster Care Youth As Community Assets

There is an unfortunate tendency toward viewing foster care youth and alumni with suspicion, rather than seeing them as community assets and resources.

Teens in the foster care system are perceived as being in need of various governmental services, rather than being able to offer valuable services to the community.


The truth is that young people in and from foster care have much to offer in terms of insights and abilities. Empowering them to participate in community service projects has the potential to reap many benefits, both for the young people themselves and for their local community.

What works and what doesn’t?
What’s the best method to engage this population in community service projects?

1.) Let us pick the issue.
First of all, the service needs to be meaningful to the young people involved. YouthBuild USA began in Harlem, New York in 1978, when founder Dorothy Stoneman asked neighborhood teens, “How would you improve your community if you had adult support?’

They responded that they would rebuild houses, take back buildings from drug dealers and eliminate crime. This vision, building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people, was created by the youth themselves -- and the program remains successful today.

2.) Treat us as equals.
The Vision Statement on Youth Engagement created by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative advocates for youth leadership. It includes quotes from recently emancipated foster youth, whose request is: “Involve us in changing our own destinies.”

Rather than just lip services about youth involvement, young people in and from the foster care system desire a meaningful role in directing their own futures. In service projects, they are not just there to receive orders - they need to be engaged in brainstorming and critical thinking.

Whenever possible, young people should be involved in the planning and overall vision for the service project. It's only by active engagement that this program will meet their developmental needs.

3.) Be trustworthy and reliable.
Facilitator should strive to create a well-structured program with a predictable routine and clear, consistent expectations. As FosterClub has expressed so eloquently in their philosophy statement, the foster care experience is characterized by chaos.

Young people in the foster care system often find it difficult to trust adults. Working on a project side-by-side and listening to one another can build the foundation for positive relationships. Valuable insights can be shared with one another.

4.) Prepare us for the future.
Ideally, the project would build skills that will prove to be helpful to young people during their transition to adulthood.

Foster youth face the same challenges that all young people face when entering the adult world, plus the extra challenge of having been parented by the child welfare system. Often, due to our circumstances, we might not have a driver's license, might not have been allowed to work during our time in care - and if our wings fail us in the adult world, we do not have a nest to come back to...

Depending upon the setting, young people might build skills in learning how to access community resources, navigating their way through college or learning practical skills that will be appreciated by their future employers. The project could even prepare them for parenting, if it involved assisting at a camp for younger children, for example.

5.) Support us during our involvement, and stay in touch with us after the project is over.
Projects like AmeriCorps support participants by meeting their basic living needs in terms of housing and stipends. This provides participants with a sense of stability.

When young people contribute to the local community, it's important that program facilitators be willing to advocate for program participants in return. Please be aware of the needs of young people involved in the program. If you hear of legislation that might have a potential impact upon their lives, be willing to advocate on their behalf.

The Youth Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey was conducted between January and March of 2005. This survey found that volunteering increases the likelihood of future social and civic engagement, and that volunteer experience is positively correlated to social connections such as family, faith-based communities, and schools.

Energize, a website created for leaders of volunteers, provides helpful research, tips and other information.

Source:
Bisi, Robert. Changing the paradigm: Positioning foster care youth as community assets and resources. Youth Service Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 1.
Kolodinsky, Jane, PhD. The effects of volunteering for non-profit organizations on social capital formation: Evidence from a statewide survey. Nonprofit and Volunteer Sector Quarterly, Feb. 12, 2003.