Monday, June 25, 2007

Foster Care Resources Online

Annie E. Casey Foundation offers grants to help states, cities and neighborhoods more effectively meet the needs of at-risk children and families.

Casey Family Programs is dedicated to provide and improve foster care. Their site offers valuable resources and free workshops.

Casey Family Services offers foster care for children, as well as post-adoption, preservation and reunification services for families.

Child Trends is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families.

Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families by connecting child welfare, adoption and related professionals as well as concerned citizens to timely, essential information.

Child Welfare League of America is an association of nearly 800 public and private nonprofit agencies that assist more than 3.5 million abused and neglected children and their families each year with a range of services.

Connect for Kids offers information and tools to learn about issues affecting children, families, and communities, and to take action to improve policies and programs.

FYI3 provides foster youth between ages 14 and 23 opportunities to become involved, informed and independent in their transitioning journey towards adulthood.

FosterClub introduces young people in foster care to successful former foster youth, offers them opportunities to send in opinions about their experiences, offers contests, events and helpful publications.

Foster Care Alumni of America connects the community of former foster children into a collective voice to create positive transformation within the child welfare system.

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative is a national foundation whose mission is to help youth in foster care make successful transitions to adulthood.

National Foster Care Coalition is a partnership between 40 national and local organizations to improve the lives of young people in and from foster care.

National Independent Living Association supports youth and young adults during their transition into adulthood and self-sufficiency.

National Mentoring Partnership promotes, advocates and serves as a resource for mentors and mentoring initiatives nationwide.

National Network for Youth serves the needs of runaway, homeless, and other disconnected youth through advocacy, innovation and services.

National Resource Center for Youth Development helps states and tribes achieve the goals of the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act and 1999 Foster Care Independence Act.

PEW Commission on Children in Foster Care was established in 2003 to develop recommendations to improve outcomes for children in the foster care system.

Promising Practice Network for Children, Families & Communities is dedicated to providing quality evidence-based information about what works to improve the lives of children, youth, and families.

Public/Private Ventures is an action-based research, public policy and program development organization.

Vera Instititute of Justice works closely with leaders in government and civil society to improve the services people rely on for safety and justice.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Can you blame him?

Photo from

On April 1st, 2006, Spirit of America celebrated International Orphans Day in Basrah by giving presents to 250 orphaned children and 80 widows.

After reading the previous blog entry, can you blame this young man for gripping his present as tightly as he can?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Orphans in Bagdad

Photo from

Welcome to an orphanage in Bagdad
, where 24 special-needs orphans were found tied to cribs.

Originally, boys and girls were housed together, but then someone separated the boys and sent them to an orphanage with no governmental oversight.

Witness their condition:
- Naked
- Starving
- On the concrete floor
- Lying in their own waste
- In temperatures up to 120 degrees

Was the orphanage poor?
No, it was well-stocked with food. The central office of the facility was well-kept, in stark contrast to the feces-ridden squalor surrounding the children. Brand-new cribs found in storage still had plastic covering their unused mattresses. Clothing was folded neatly, designated to be sold at the black market, rather than worn by children.

But the caretaker of the facility followed his greed, rather than caring for the children with whom he had been entrusted. Staff members cooked only for themselves.

What will be the future for Iraqi orphans?
As a CBS reporter has commented, "How a nation cares for its most vulnerable is one of the most important benchmarks for health in any society."

Last year, the United Nations estimated that there were about 40,000 orphan children in Iraq. That number is steadily rising... The current war has cost many children one or both parents.

In Iraqi culture, orphans are often scorned. Islamic sharia law forbids foreigners from adopting Iraqi children. It also disallows Iraqis from giving adopted children their family name and inheritance.

I would like to know if there is any way around this. Even in the best of the Iraqi orphanages, the children within are starving for love and attention, desperate for human contact. During an NBC interview, one little girl called the cameraman "Daddy."

Without loving intervention, these children might grow up to be future terrorists. Quammara al-Janni, coordinator of orphan programs through the Red Crescent (the Arab Red Cross), reminded reporters that Saddam Hussein was raised as an orphan.

Breakdown in families, breakdown in communication
In April 2007, while working to reunite family members, social workers discovered that 100 Iraqi street children thought to be orphans (86 boys, 33 girls) actually had family members somewhere in Iraq who were willing to take them in. In most cases, the parents had died, and children didn't know how to contact relatives.

This might be an important first step to take: Trying to reconnect children with extended family members in Iraq...

Engel, Richard. Iraqi orphans face uncertain future. NBC Nightly News, May 26, 2006.
Logan, Lara. Clinging to life in a Bagdad orphanage. CBS News, June 18, 2007.
Potter, Beth. Social workers launch effort to find homes for orphans, others. USA Today, May 31, 2005.
Street orphans of Bagdad: Thousands of homeless kids live on the street in the war zone, without shelter or aid. CBS News, May 8, 2007.
Tarabay, Jamie. Help for Iraqi orphans falls on charities. NPR, April 8, 2007.
Troops discover Iraqi orphanage nightmare. CBS News, June 19, 2007.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Speaking of my previous blog entry...

This postcard was created by a former foster child, as part of the Culture of Foster Care Postcard Project by Foster Care Alumni of America.

Today, I led a workshop for a group of twelve teenagers in foster care. It was the first in a series of four workshops led by myself and three other former foster children designed to give young people a voice and prepare them for the various aspects of life after they age out of care.

The majority of attendees were 16 years old.

One young lady in my workshop raised her hand and asked, “How would you feel if someone came to the place where you were staying and asked her to tell you all about yourself when you had just met her?”

Her desire was for this person — her new caseworker — to be patient and earn her trust in some way, before demanding personal information.

Revealing deeply personal information to strangers or acquaintances is a risky venture. In my previous blog entry (and during the workshop), I mapped out a Circles of Intimacy Diagram that promotes regulating self-disclosure based upon levels of trust.

When you offer deeply personal information to strangers, even if that person is your caseworker, you are making yourself vulnerable to the unpredictability of their response. What you share will them will undoubted wind up in your case file, and depending upon the opinion of the caseworker, what is written might be skewed in various ways.

For the young person in foster care, getting a good social worker is like winning the lottery. Some caseworkers are caring, resourceful and empowering. Others are underpaid, overworked, and overwhelmed.

Most are trained to make instant judgments and to categorize young people. Those labels stay in that person’s case file and can continue to follow them until their file is closed.

1.) What do you think about the pros and cons of case files? What is helpful about them? What do you think about their accuracy?

2.) How well do you think the foster care system is doing at preparing young people to develop healthy relationships as adults?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Strategic Sharing for People in and from Foster Care

In preparation for several upcoming statewide workshops for young people preparing to age out of foster care, I created the above diagram to convey the different levels of relationships.

One of the challenges for young people in/from foster care is developing personal boundaries.

- How much can I share? - Who should I share it with? - Will they be too overwhelmed? - Who can I tell?

People in the inner circle have often earned the trust necessary for deeper vulnerability.

Revealing deeply personal information to strangers or acquaintances is a risky venture.

For current/former foster children, the journey toward wholeness often involves bouncing between one extreme or another.

- Over-share vs. under-share. - Total independence vs. victim mentality. - Too vulnerable vs. invulnerable.

These extremes are understandable, but in the long-run, they can prove to be unhealthy, and even dangerous.

In a private venue, with people in the inner circle, you can be vulnerable and figure out the meaning and significance that your experience has for you...

In a public venue, with people in the outer rings of the circle, you might need to explain why you are sharing your experience and connect it with your purpose for sharing.

Why might you share your experiences privately?
- To make sense and meaning out of our lives
- To open ourselves up to personal growth

Why might you share your experiences publicly?
- To put a human face on social issues and inspire others to action

My friend Misty created an excellent resource on strategic sharing. She wrote, "At its best, sharing personal stories can educate, inspire and make a real difference. At its worst, it can feel manipulative, exploitive or lead to harmful consequences."

What are the risks of public / private sharing?
- People might discredit you or write you off; assuming that you "have issues"
- People might assume you are playing the victim and want something from them
- People might try to take advantage of you (if I had a dollar for every guy who offered

Self-disclosure is a lot like clothing
Do you really want to bare yourself naked in front of strangers? If the level of disclosure is imbalanced, regardless of how effective your presentation might be, you might leave that venue feeling exploited. Bringing up certain memories can be painful.

Questions to ask yourself ahead of time:

1.) Strategic Sharing: What is my purpose for sharing? What do I want people to learn from my story? Some details make a story compelling and memorable. Others might come back to haunt you later on.

2.) Measured Disclosure: Which details am I willing to share? What do I choose to keep private? Would I mind if my words were recorded in print, or retold by another person?

3.) Generalize the Issue: If the subject gets too personal, or questions from the audience seem overly prying and make you feel uncomfortable, respond with statistics about the BIG picture.

4.) Connecting with Others: How will the audience be able to relate to your story? Consider inviting the audience to share personal information of their own.

As Danielle pointed out in the previous "comments" section, entering the adult world is challenging for many people, not just alumni of foster care.

When in doubt, share your story with people you trust (people from the inner circle) before "going public." Ask a trusted mentor if they think you are establishing personal boundaries in order to protect yourself.

Stenslie, Misty and Cynthia Scheiderer. Strategic Sharing: Drawing on Personal Experience to Educate and Influence, May 2006.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A circle of support helps teens age out of foster care

Since young people aging out of foster care lack the “roots” relied upon by young people from intact families, they will need to work to create and recreate support systems of their own.

I created this diagram of examples for teens in the foster care system to consider while preparing to age out of care.

According to Children’s Rights, half of the young adults between the ages of 18 - 24 in the general population live at home with their parents. Most people within this age group rely upon their families for assistance with a place to live, financial support and other guidance as they transition to adulthood.

Meanwhile, 20,000 foster children "age out” of foster care each year, and enter the adult world.

We can make it. We can survive.

But because we often lack the "roots" relied upon by our peers, we will need to build the skills to create and recreate a circle of suport for ourselves.

This is the first step... stayed tuned.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

What are the "whys" behind these statistics?

This week, I met a young man who had moved to my state from California. He was Latin American. His English was broken; his family even more so. He was 19 years old, and had been out on his own since he was 14.

Afraid of entering the California foster care system, he had joined a gang and they became his substitute family. However, by moving several states over to obtain a lucrative construction job, he had now lost contact with his friends, and was looking to make local connections.

He asked me to look up his gang and see if they had any local presence in my city. They did not (and I was secretly glad about that fact). Then, he asked me to look up his family members – but his surname did not appear in any online phone books or databases.

“Oh, I know why!” he said, “It’s because they are illegal.”

According to research, 81% of young children of immigrants live with a non-citizen parent, and almost 50% live with an undocumented parent. If those families break down, it’s hard to find a safety net in this strange new country.

Newly published research from Urban Institute's Child Welfare Research Program reveals that Latin American immigrant children are three times more likely to enter the foster care system because of sexual abuse.

When I read this information, my first question was, “Why?”

1.) Is it because Latin American immigrants are afraid to report abuse in other cases, because many immigrant households are made up of both citizens and non-citizens, and they fear government scrutiny?

That must be a tough decision to make: Save a child and be deported. Stay in this country and allow a child to suffer. Add that to distrust of the United States foster care system, and you have a recipe for secrecy when it comes to neglect and physical abuse.

In fact, as a whole, Latin American children are under-represented in the U.S. foster care system, in contrast with other minority groups which tend to be overrepresented.

2.) Are these children unaccompanied minors? Runaways are more vulnerable to sexual abuse because they are older, unsupervised and need basic necessities like food and shelter.

3.) Does this higher statistic point to the commercial sexploitation of children? According to John Miller, the U.S. Ambassador, as many as 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.

Once Latin American immigrant children enter foster care, it is unlikely that they will be placed with relatives (8%). Nor will the state where they reside be reimbursed by the federal government for helping them. Title IV-E funding is the largest source of federal support for state welfare services – and, due to federal restruations, only 5% of Latin American immigrant child are eligible.

Source: Child Welfare Research Program: Identifying Immigrant Families Involved in Child Welfare Systems, Findings from Texas, 2007.