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

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

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