Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thought on Approaching the New Year

We are approaching a new decade -- can you believe that?

I am hoping that it's a decade of continued positive change regarding improving outcomes for foster care youth/alumni. That's what I'll be working towards for the next 10 years.

Today, I am looking back and savoring every second and every moment of 2009...

During 2009, the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America:
  • Testified before legislators
  • Visited various counties to build youth advisory boards
  • Supported Ohio Reach efforts to increase the number of foster care youth enrolling in and graduating from college 
  • Co-hosted the youth track of the NACAC conference
  • Shared our insights nationally and locally
  • Had Ohio's First Lady present during our Thanksgiving event
We will continue to move forward during the next decade...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Real Research On Foster Care

As a former foster child and current youth advocate, the research I respect most comes from the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ohio Reach radio interview

We are now approaching a new decade -- can you believe that?

And I am hoping that it will be a decade of continued positive change regarding improving outcomes for foster care youth/alumni

That's what I'll be working towards...

Let's talk about Higher Education Outcomes.

I recently attended and presented at a 'College Night' for foster care youth and their mentors. The information shared was a bit overwhelming to participants, both mentors and youth, in terms of mapping out everything they needed to know.

In response, I offered to help develop a timeline, and some online resources for FCCS College Bound Mentoring Program mentors.

Below is a radio interview regarding Ohio Reach for WCUE/WOTL/WYTN (radio stations covering Toledo, Cleveland and Youngstown).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ohio should do something like this 2010

The annual Voices for Change competition invites Virginia foster care youth and alumni to share their struggles in moving toward adulthood, in the form of artwork, poems, essays and photography.

Read the 2009 Voices for Change book which shares their reflections, achievements, and insights about what works and doesn’t work for kids in foster care as they transition to adulthood.

And, enjoy this link to a previous year's Voices for Change book, as well!

This ongoing iniative is sponsored by Voices for Virginia’s Children and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, in partnership with Art 180 and FACES of Virginia Families.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Unemployment Rate Highest for Ages 18-19

  • The national youth employment rate is at its lowest level in 60 years.
  • Nearly four million of the nation's unemployed are under age 25 - and that number does not include the hundreds of thousands of youth who have simply given up looking.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young adults between ages 18-19 years old have the highest unemployment rate, at 25.6%.
  • The unemployment rate for youth 16-24 years old who have not finished high school is over 30%.

In the aftermath of Ohio budget cuts, some counties are terminating the cases of foster care youth when they turn 18 years old, regardless of whether or not that young person has finished high school.

Due to frequent school changes, some of these young people are only in their junior year of high school.

Imagine being declared an independent adult when you are only a junior in high school. Being unemployed. Without family support. Lacking the money to buy food. Unable to afford housing.

For a young woman, there are programs - but only if she becomes pregnant. For a young man, there is only the local homeless shelter or food pantry.

  • At the very time when our young people are getting ready to launch into adulthood, and share their gifts and  talents with the world, their futures are being short-circuited.

  • If that foster care youth had been sheltered by the state for only one or two years longer, they might at least have a diploma and be able to apply for higher education.

The Campaign for Youth is calling for a National Youth Initiative to create jobs for youth to work, while providing them with the wrap-around education, work skills, and supports that they need.

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America is calling for a statewide advocacy strategy to address shortsighted practices that are leading to Ohio foster care youth being pushed out of the nest without sufficient preparation and support.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Memories of My Mother Will Never Die While I'm Alive

It's my Birthday Eve and the "Shadow Year" is almost over...

All year, this year, I've been the same age that my mother was when she died.

So, every day in 2009, I've tried to make each day count and make a difference -- which has made it a Sunshine Year, after all..

Thursday, December 03, 2009

FLUX: Life After Foster Care

More than 100 foster care alumni contributed to writing FLUX: Life After Foster Care, a book written to support young people during the emotional transition from foster care to adulthood.

There are many emotional challenges during the journey from foster care to adulthood, including:
  • How to parent, when your only parent has been a 'system'
  • How to build relationships, when you've learned not to trust
  • How to handle contact with biological family members

Nobody knows the emotional journey better than the foster care alumni who have traveled that path firsthand... Read FLUX -- and join in the online book discussion!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FCAA Ohio Thanksgiving 2009

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America greatly appreciate the sponsoring organizations that made this year's Thanksgiving event possible, and the press representatives who shared our message with the local community:

We thank Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland for taking time out of her busy schedule to attend, and participate in, this year's Thanksgiving gathering of current and former foster youth from all across Ohio.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Foster Care Alumni of America Ohio chapter Thanksgiving Reunion 2009

Thanksgiving dinner provided for those who have experienced foster care
Crane, Misti. Columbus Dispatch front page, Nov. 23, 2009.

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Riccardo Rushin, 19, of Canton, talks with his Stark County group at a Thanksgiving dinner in Bexley that drew about 100 Ohioans, many of whom are or have been in foster care. Rushin has lived on his own since he turned 18 and "aged out" of foster care.

They might have nowhere to go Thursday, or somewhere that feels safe but is only temporary.

Young people who've known the hardship of living without family and who've been challenged to find strength despite a shaky foundation found communion yesterday at a meal that came four days before the holiday but embodied its spirit.

Thanksgiving is about family. It's about grace and gratitude.

For foster children and young adults who've moved beyond their temporary homes, family in its conventional sense can be elusive.

About 100 people from across the state, many of whom are in foster care or recently "aged out," as they say, gathered yesterday afternoon at Agudas Achim, a Bexley synagogue.

Thanks to the kindnesses of others and the dogged advocacy of former foster child Lisa Dickson, they found camaraderie and Thanksgiving.

Dickson founded the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America. She's 36 and has a family of her own, but she remembers the feeling of isolation that could accompany the holidays, particularly when she was a young adult.

"There wasn't a family to come back to; there weren't those roots," Dickson said.

"For a lot of people, the holidays can be the loneliest part."

In and of itself, being a foster child can be lonely, said Alex McFarland, who is 19 and president of the Ohio youth advisory board. He said it's worse when those outside the situation misunderstand.

"A lot of people have the image that we've done something wrong, when more than likely somebody's done something wrong to us," said McFarland, who lives in a suburb of Dayton.

The dinner was the third-annual -- the first in Columbus -- and was made possible because of a $1,000 donation from Capital University's student government that paid for food. The synagogue gave its space free, said Gabriel Koshinsky, vice president of student government and president of the Jewish Student Union.

The meal yesterday offered an opportunity to meet new people and learn about opportunities for foster children. It also gave guests the chance to reclaim the sense of belonging.

Dre Williams, who is 18 and lives in a foster home, and Kadeem Monroe, who is 19 and on his own, came to Columbus with a group from Stark County.

"I don't know how many days I felt like I was the only foster child in the world," Monroe said.

People who aren't part of the system don't understand the challenges or the emotional burdens or even how foster care works, the two said.

Williams said he wishes more good people would embrace children who can no longer live with their families, and that fewer people would invite foster children into their homes primarily for the money.

He's now living with Jodi Wilson, who has been a foster mom to 14 kids over 17 years. She maintains ties with many of them, and has a warm rapport with Williams.

"These kids are alone, or I believe they feel alone," said Wilson, who also works as supervisor of Stark County's independent-living program.

Bringing them together as a family of sorts is important, Wilson said.

"They have a common language, common experiences," she said.

"I'm 52, and I still talk to my mother every day. They don't have that."

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Lisa Dickson, a former foster child who founded Ohio's chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, snaps a memory of the event she sought.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 Ohio Summit on Children

During the Governor's second of two Ohio Summits on Children, foster care youth and alumni shared their insights during roundtables on:

1. Funding
2. Systemic Issues
  • Establishing a shared vision
  • Developing/maintaining a continuum of care in this economic climate
  • Measuring outcomes/data
  • Connecting data systems
  • Reducing staff turnover
3. Behavioral Health
  • Access to services
  • Placement prevention/intensive home-based services
  • Early screening for mental health and developmental needs
  • Application of trauma-informed care
4. Education
  • Increasing graduation rates and academic performance
  • Engaging youth who do not adapt to traditional education
  • Engaging families and building community partnerships
  • Creating safe schools and healthy communities
  • Supporting children with autism spectrum disorders and their families
5. Building and Sustaining Local Planning Teams
6. Health
  • Access to health care
  • Timely screening and coordination of care
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Prevention and prenatal care
7. Out-of-Home Care
  • Supporting kinship programs
  • Ensuring the sufficient availability of foster homes
  • Short-term residential/step-down care
  • Timely adoption of children in permanent custody
8. Family Engagement
  • Involvement of fathers
  • Parenting skill development
  • Parent advocacy/family-driven plans
  • Families separated by incarceration
9. Youth in Court
10. Transitioning Youth Out of the System

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Permanency Or Independent Living? It's NOT an Either/Or Situation

As a former foster child, I've been saying this for years:

"The child welfare system tends to focus on where to place youth.

"But regardless of placement, whether a young person ends up being adopted, reuniting with biological parents, being connected with family members or staying in a group home, foster home, institution or juvenile facility...

"They still need to have the tools necessary to build relationships and to ensure their long-term physical and emotional survival."

Glad that the experts are catching up!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pieces of Me: Voices For & By Adopted Teens

Pieces of Me, Who do I Want to Be? is a collection of stories, poems, art, music, quotes, activities, and provocative questions for an adopted teen or young adult who wants to put the pieces of their adoption story together - but doesn’t know where to begin.

It is a book of voices, from ages 11 to 63, speaking honestly and authentically about what it means to be adopted. Most are adoptees from around the world – some are transracial, some are international, some are from foster care, some are young, some are old.

The book is separated into five sections:
  • Gathering the Pieces
  • Stolen Pieces
  • Fitting the Pieces
  • Sharing the Pieces
  • Where do These Pieces Go?

Each chapter offers hope, encouragement, empowerment, and a sense of not being alone.

ISBN 9780972624442

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Filling Family Portraits: An Ohio Adoption Advocacy Event

Who: Adoption advocates, adoptive families, adoptees When: Friday, November 6th, 2009, from Noon - 1:00 p.m.
Where: The Ohio Statehouse, West Lawn, Statehouse Steps
Sponsored by: OACCA, PCSAO, Ohio Adoption Planning Group, Adoption Network Cleveland, OFCA, Ohio CASA, ODJFS, Children's Defense Fund, National Center for Adoption Law and Policy, IHS, and Voices for Ohio's Children.


Did You Know?
One in five children who are waiting in foster care to be adopted will have to leave the system without a family at age 18 or 21. As many as 26,000 children will "age out" in the U.S. alone. (AFCARS Report, U.S. Dept. HHS)

Lisa Dickson's Call to Action:
"I aged out of foster care in 1989 - but it wasn't until over a decade later, in the year 2000, that my picture frame was finally filled." (At this point Lisa held up her wedding photo). "I was 27 years old when I married my husband, and finally became a legal member of a forever family.”

Our children shouldn't have to wait that long. We can do so much better for the young people in and from foster care today. Every year, over a thousand Ohio youth "age out" of the foster care system without being connected with forever families.”

"When I married my husband, I became a stepmother to his two beautiful daughters. We've been married for ten years now, and I learn more every day about what it's like to love two children who are not biologically my daughters - but whom I love more than anything.”

"As I watch my stepdaughters enter their teenage years, and young adulthood, I know that my husband and I will be there for them no matter what. They won't face the uncertainty that I faced as a child.”

"They will know that they are loved. They will know that they are safe. They will know that they have a place to belong to.”

"If they make a mistake while budgeting in college, they won't be homeless. If the road is difficult, I won't pull over the car, and tell them to get out. They will know that, even during the hard times, my love will still be there.”

"There are more than 3,000 children in Ohio who are waiting for that kind of assurance and certainty today.”

"Right now, at this moment, is an opportunity to fill their picture frames with our love. Our consistency. Our perseverance.”

"We who are here today have the strength to love, and the confidence to let adoptees tell us their story. We can build pictures of the future, and face pictures of the past. We can open our hearts and our homes, and provide FOREVER.”

Lisa Dickson, Communications Chair of Foster Care Alumni of America's Ohio chapter, speaks from the heart at the Nov. 6th Adoption Rally “Filling Family Portraits” on the Statehouse Steps. OACCA Weekly, Nov. 9, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Consequences of Dropping Out of High School

*Source of chart: Dillon, Sam. Study Finds High Rate of Imprisonment Among Dropouts. New York Times, Oct. 8, 2009.

According to Andrew Sum, Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern, being a dropout in 21st century America is one of the country’s costliest problems.

Learn more about:
(Please note that the link to the costs & benefits source is slower to load...)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Recessions Can Scar Children's Futures

I agree with Katie Couric that one story that hasn't been told is the impact of the recession on children and youth -- not just current struggles, but implications for the future.

Research by the Economic Policy Institute indicates the recessions create long-term hardships for children and families, putting children's futures at great risk.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Best Workshop I've Attended All Year

Anthony President is a Cuyahoga County trainer through the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, who works for Lakeland Community College.

His workshop, Filtering the Noise for Young Black Boys, is based upon Anthony's concern is that Generation Y is being influenced by negative street culture, not just in the United States, but spilling out all over the world...

Boys are particularly negatively influenced by “noise;” negative imagery that glorifies “hood culture.” This noise can skew their perception, and impede positive messages, from parents, educators and pastors, from being heeded.

As William Isaac Thomas wrote, "How we define a situation influences how we respond to it."

Boys can be indoctrinated to believe that gang life is their only way to survive, that there is no other reality.

Young men are especially vulnerable to street culture if they have no hope, no vision, no plan for the future, no positive peers, no positive encouragement, and no positive role models.

1. Parents: Role-play is very important to boys. They often receive their first lessons in the definition of manhood from family members. In some families, young men are being groomed to become hustlers.

2. Peers: Anthony discussed the gang recruitment process, and the evolution of posers into gang members.

3. Media: Generation Y is the most technically savvy generation. TV has replaced parents as the #1 storytellers. Videogames and music videos demonstrate the elevation of the anti-hero. And, on YouTube, just by checking a box that says they are over 18, young children can watch “mature” material.

4. Relatives, Neighbors, Surroundings: These influences can further paint a thug picture of reality.

Six ISMs:
1. THUGISM: The word “thug” comes from India, and refers to “gleeful killers.” The Thug Manifesto is based on anger towards mainstream society for exploiting poor people. Frustration has led to anger, which has led to hate.

The thug life is not a long-term lifestyle. Participants typically wind up broke, dead or in jail. This is why gang leaders are constantly seeking new recruits. Some children as young as eight years old are already trying to emulate older gang members.

2. GANGSTERISM: Gang culture has become a part of Americana. Former gang members write best-selling books, appear on talk shows and episodes of Law and Order. Gangsterism is a divisive ideology: one gang against the other.

Why might young people join gangs? Power, money and respect. Sense of identity and belonging. Escape from boredom. Desire for sex. Quest for safety. If a young person disobeys the gang's bylaws, two consequences are BOS (beat on sight) or TOS (terminate on sight).

3. PIMPISM: Ideology based on manipulation as a means of survival. Often involves the objectification and exploitation of women. The three Ps (p*****, pay and a place to stay).

4. HOODISM: Based on the idea that "this hood is all I have" and if any strangers trespass in the neighborhood, the proper response is to beat them up or kill them. This ideology is currently being challenged in the Give Me A Pass Campaign.

5. GHETTOISM: Celebrates the worst of African American stereotypes. Thinking in the short-term, money spent on luxury items.

6. SEXISM: Music can permeate our natural defense mechanisms. Listen to how women are portrayed on music videos and referred to in lyrics. What language is being used to describe women? Does it value women? Language precedes thought, and influences behavior and interpretation of social reality.

Anthony showed an excerpt from a documentary called War Zone. The young men in the video were trying to enact their personal fantasies, based on music videos, on real-life women. He also shared how Kazi and the Hip Hop Project channel music and abilities in a positive direction.

7. KEEP IT REALISM: This socially constructed definition of masculinity is rooted in white Italian gangster films like The Godfather. It is a narrow and destructive method of training boys to become men, which includes fronting to get respect, and mastering a tough guy pose: “You gotta look mean, or people won’t respect you.”

Masculinity is perceived as being based upon performance. Uncles tell their nephews to never back down from a fight. Crowds cheer on fights, and participants feel that they can’t back down, or they will lose face. Anthony asks, "Is there all there is to being a man? What about pride in being a protector or a provider?"

FILTER: When Anthony was a young man, growing up in Cleveland, the people around him helped him to develop an internal filter to screen out the noise (pervasive messages) of mass media and society. He learned that, if he used education as a vehicle, there was another reality in which he could exist.

To address street culture, we need to:
- Be as pervasive as the negative messages
- Equip young people with the tools to resist negative, pervasive messages
- Replace the language of the street (“Whassup, pimp?”) with the language of empowerment
- Provide young people with the resources they need to succeed, including the development of problem-solving activities
- Use the power of stories (success stories and/or cautionary tales)

Filters can be created by teaching young people:
- Personal responsibility
- Problem-solving skills
- Delayed gratification
- Available resources
- Positive ways to overcome challenges and barriers

It's vital for the adults in young men’s lives to teach them how to invest in education and skill set development that will lead to increased financial rewards throughout a lifetime (vs. dying young).

Action Plan: Reach out to the teenagers in your life. Find something to praise in their behavior. Ask them about their goals for the future. Encourage them to put them in writing, sign and date them. Check back with the teens to see whether or not their goals are being met.

Redirect if necessary: One young man told Anthony that his goal was to get a girl pregnant, so she could get Section 8 and WIC, and he could live with her. Anthony and the young man listed the pro's and con's of this idea.

Anthony then said, "That can be one reality. What about this one? You get a two-year post-graduate degree and wind up with a well-paying job. You wait to marry the right girl, the one you love. She also has achieved a degree. Which one of these options has a better pay-off, in terms of your future?"

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Health Reform Could Cover 13 Million Uninsured Young Adults

Young adults ages 19 to 29 are among the largest and fastest growing segment of the population without health insurance.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Economic crisis is unraveling social safety nets across the nation

The National Council of Nonprofits recently released a report titled: A Respectful Warning Call to Our Partners in Government: The Economic Crisis Is Unraveling the Social Safety Net Faster Than Most Realize.

The report indicates that nonprofit organizations throughout the nation are struggling to meet growing demand for services at the same time that their operating costs are rising and their revenues falling.

Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits explains that, "The economic threats to nonprofits and the communities we serve are real and dire. It is both unrealistic and unsafe to those depending on services to simply assume that nonprofits will somehow be able to continue to deliver more services that cost more with declining revenues. The math just doesn't work."

This report encapsulates data from GuideStar, the Listening Post Project at Johns Hopkins University, the Bridgespan Group, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund, as well as state non-profit associations in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Rather than asking for additional funding from the federal and state governments, the report calls on government officials and nonprofit leaders to collaborate more effectively to meet growing community needs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Things That Weigh Heavy on My Heart

These are the things that weigh heavily on my heart as I ponder how we might address them.

Ohio is in serious economic trouble right now. Our state unemployment compensation funds have been completely depleted. Ohio is one of 17 states that are now borrowing from the national trust fund to cover unemployment benefits. We are currently $1 billion in debt, and the shortfall is expected to top $3 billion by the end of 2010.

One of our counties is in a fiscal emergency: Auditor of State Mary Taylor recently placed Scioto County in fiscal emergency -- the first Ohio county ever so designated. She said the county has a combined county fund deficit of more than $3.5 million as of June 30, 2009.

Did you know that, according to CBS News, child abuse spikes during a recession?

Liquor sales are up: The Ohio Department of Commerce said Wednesday that sales of liquor continued to set records, rising to $729.9 million for FY09. When times are tough, it can seem easier to add up change to buy liquor than to face the pain, and try to be a part of a positive solution.

Have you visited the website for the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare? That organization exists because there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and the neglect and abuse of children.

Gambling is being promoted by our Governor as some sort of magic elixir to fix the budget problems. And it seems that Ohio’s children are last on his list.

At a time when the needs of foster care youth transitioning to adulthood are being recognized on federal level through the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, Governor Strickland chose to cut the Ohio’s state independent living allocation by 100%.

This was after Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies successfully advocated to retain that funding allocation. Can you imagine how difficult it was to look into the faces of the young people who testified and tell them about the Governor's veto?

Now, unless Ohio complies with National Youth in Transition Database requirements, our state stands to lose up to $250,000/yr. in federal funding to help transitioning youth as well. That is $250K of Chafee funding that could be spent supporting foster care youth before, during and after transition to adulthood.

Last week, Gov. Ted Strickland issued an Executive Order to cut funding for the state's adoption assistance programs. These cuts will affect the funds that provide financial assistance for adoptive families to provide services for children with special needs (PASS, SAMS, state match for IV-E and nonrecurring adoption expenses).

All this, in addition to massive cuts regarding child protection, which have led to laying off caseworkers and increasing caseloads.

I am deeply concerned.

But I also believe that the tougher things get in our state, so far as foster care and adoption advocacy is concerned, the more important it is for us to band together and press forward. We can't give up -- because there is too much at stake. And we need to formulate a shared vision of how we can make things better.

There’s a team-building exercise in which each person uses one finger to lift something (like a table), and their combined strength makes it possible to lift that table off the ground.

I can’t lift the weight that’s on my heart all by myself.

It’s the weight of a state, and all of us who care about Ohio youth and their welfare need to come together and take collective action.

Foster Care and Teenage Pregnancy

This is from 2006, so if you want to know where your state stands today, please visit: Estimated Percentage of Females Who Will Become Teen Mothers: Differences Across States.

While I am not a teen parent myself, I could have been. That is to say that I had a miscarriage when I was 15 years old. If I had not had that miscarriage, I'm not sure what would have happened.

I was in foster care. Would I have been separated from my child? Would I have been able to provide for my child? Would I still have entered college at age 16 years old? I don't know...

What I do know is that any efforts to address the needs of a community can be made more powerful if they include consumer voice and firsthand experience.

If I were a pregnant teen, I'd be more likely to listen to someone who had been through the experience, and made it, and was a successful parent.

That's who I think needs to be co-presenting and co-developing the workshops.

You need the voice of experience, combined with the wisdom of research and connection with all available resources... There are all sorts of resources out there, if someone wanted to step into a leadership role and take this on:

1.) Chapin Hall recently released a report on Pregnant and Parenting Foster Youth: Their Needs; Their Experiences.

2.) Healthy Teen Network hosts an annual conference. I've suggested to them in the past the possibility of waiving conference and travel fees for former-teen-moms-now-workshop-instructors who might want to present.

3.) The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy even invites teens to make their own commercials about early parenthood.

4.) The National Crittenton Foundation recently released "Rights and Resources," developed with and for pregnant and parenting teens in foster care. It provides state-specific information.

5.) The Department of Labor provides a Youth Persons Demonstration Grant to support community organizations that train and educate young parents to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency. This grant targets high-risk young mothers and fathers and expectant mothers ages 16-24, and is open to nonprofit and faith-based groups.

In terms of measuring and maximizing effectiveness, Child Trends released a fact sheet on What Works for Adolescent Reproductive Health.

One example of an innovative program is Family Scholar House in Louisville, Kentucky. They give single-parents the support they need to finish a four-year college degree.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Early emancipation of foster teens as a cost-saving measure??

I recently received reports from social workers that some counties are trying to cut costs through premature emancipation of Ohio teenagers.

Just yesterday, I presented a workshop on Strategic Sharing for homeless youth during a statewide retreat - and over half of the youth in attendance had been in foster care.

I've been contacted by young people in Cuyahoga County saying that their case had been "terminated" prematurely since the budget cuts were announced, and that the reason they were given was noncompliance with their case plan.

At a time when our nation is moving forward in terms of federal matching dollars for extending foster care to age 21, and making measuring outcomes of youth "aging out" of foster care a federal priority, Ohio seems to be moving backward and not forward in this area.

Ohio foster youth are entering into adulthood during a recession. Any decision to close their case should be made based upon their readiness to face that world - not based on cost savings for the agency, or convenience in not having to deal with that particular teenager.

This California message bears relevance to Ohio

"Myriad studies have shown that the period immediately after “emancipation” at age 18 is the most precarious for a foster youth...

"For years, thousands of California youths were abused or neglected twice over — first by parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t provide basic care, then by governmental agencies that cut them off from all support on their 18th birthdays...

"Any pressure to divert savings to help with the state’s budget woes instead of reinvesting in foster care. That would be a costly mistake.

"The human and the dollar cost of not investing in grown-up foster children has already been shown to be very, very high.

"It is time for us, as a state, to act as if these kids who have been put in our care genuinely matter to us.

"Actually, it’s way past time."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

National Youth in Transition Database - What's YOUR state doing to meet federal requirements?

In 1999, Congress established the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP). This program gives States flexible funding to assist youth in transitioning out of foster care.

The Chafee National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD), effective as of April 28, 2008, added new regulations to require states to collect and report data to the ACF on youth who are receiving independent living services, including data collection and tracking outcomes.

The Purpose of NYTD: To understand and serve youth better.

Basically, every state is now required by federal law to track foster care youth at ages 17, 19 and 21.

Six outcomes that NYTD wants to measure:
1. Financial self-sufficiency of youth
2. Educational attainment of youth
3. Youth’s positive connections with adults
4. Homelessness among youth
5. High-risk behavior among youth
6. Youth access to health insurance

Why WE should ask our states what they are doing and offer to help:
- Requiring states to be more accountable is good
- Tracking youth after they leave foster care is HARD
- If states DON'T meet this requirement, they will lose money - money that COULD have been spent to help transitioning foster care youth

Compliance Date: States must implement and comply with this rule no later than Oct. 1, 2010. This means that states must begin to collect data on Oct. 1, 2010, and submit the first report period data to ACF no later than May 15, 2011.

Penalty for Noncompliance: States are required to get at least 80 % of youth in foster care and at least 60 % of youth who have left care to participate in the youth outcomes survey. If States do not comply with or meet the data standards, they can be penalized between one and five percent of their annual Chafee Foster Care Independence Program allotment.

Loss of up to 5% of Ohio's Chafee funds would translate into a loss of $250K of federal funding each year. This is federal funding that COULD have been used to help transitioning foster care youth.

Recently, Ohio's foster care youth lost a 2.5 M state earmark for Independent Living, after successfully advocating for this funding through the Ohio House, Senate and conference committee, due to Governor Strickland's last-minute veto.

Ohio’s foster care youth cannot afford to lose $250,000+ in Chafee funding in addition to the loss of state funds. This is why the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America is offering to help in our state with this effort...

Consider this: Who is more likely to be successful in keeping in touch with a young person who has aged out of foster care? A social worker? Or a foster care alumna?

For more information, please visit:

NYTD Preparation Timeline

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Was the Governor's Veto in the Public Interest?

During Governor Strickland's 2008 Ohio Summit on Children, one of the top challenges reported by counties was lack of funding for transitional services for older youth in foster care.

The Independent Living Initiative is the only state program that provides transitional living services to foster care youth. These services include drivers' education, life skills training, job readiness preparation, and food and housing assistance.

Historically, this program was funded by a TANF earmark of 2.5M, administered by ODJFS and implemented by county children services departments. In the Governor's first version of HB1, this funding was cut entirely.

Ohio foster care youth, alumni and advocates urged the legislature to restore funding to FY 2009 levels, or establish a new, non-earmark program to replace it -- and were able to successfully advocate for it to be put back into the budget bill, at a lower amount of 1.5M.

During the process, the source of funding to support this program was transferred to the GRF (General Revenue Fund). Hence, the Governor's concerns about lack of flexibility.

However the wording of the bill as released by the HB 1 conference committee did allow for flexibility, because it stated that:

"...up to $1,500,000 in each fiscal year shall be used to provide independent living services to foster youth and former foster youth between 16 and 21 years of age."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Governor Strickland's Final Veto

Breaking News: Governor Strickland VETOED the Independent Living Initiative.

Item Number 40
On page 2900, delete the boxed text.
Section 309.45.15 Earmark for Independent Living... Read More

Quote: "This provision earmarks $1.5 million of the Children and Family Services line item for independent living services to youth. The majority of the funds in this line item are already allocated to county agencies for their use to support child welfare programs, including independent living. This earmark will constrain the county agencies ability to use the allocated funds in a flexible manner that meets each county's needs to support children. For these reasons, a veto is in the public interest."

Ohio Advocacy Efforts throughout HB 1 Budget Process

The official version of HB 1 was released earlier this week, and the Independent Living Allocation was preserved:

Of the foregoing appropriation item 600523, Children and Families
Services, up to $1,500,000 in each fiscal year shall be used to provide
independent living services to foster youth and former foster youth

between 16 and 21 years of age. Page 2900

Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies should be proud.

Youth and alumni who experienced foster care firsthand were HEARD by the Ohio House of Representatives. We were HEARD by the Ohio Senate. We were HEARD by the conference committee.

We fought for an earmark to be amended into the bill from the very beginning. We successfully fought to maintain this funding, despite many rounds of funding cuts.

Without our efforts, this money would not have been inserted into the bill for transition age youth.

It's time to celebrate and give thanks!

1.) We are thankful to our legislators for hearing our testimony, reading our letters and maintaining this important funding allocation.

2.) We thank Mark Mecum of OACCA, Doris Edelmann of Montgomery County Children Services, Bryan Brown of Starr Commonwealth, Anita Wainwright of Mahoning County Children Services, Susan Ignelzi, and Brandi Scales, adult supporter of the OHIO YAB.

3.) We thank Nick Bates and Angela Lareviere, for taking the leadership role in facilitating Ready to Launch Day, for proudly wearing Ready to Launch stickers and for empowering YEP youth to speak out on behalf of young people throughout Ohio.

4.) We thank YEP youth, VISION Board youth, Mahoning County youth, Franklin County youth, OHIO YAB youth and FCAA Ohio alumni for sharing their voices and a strategic piece of their stories.

There truly is a foster care movement going on in Ohio...

Next Steps:
a.) Sending thank you letters to legislators, including personalizing letters to legislators who asked us thoughtful questions during our testimony and legislative office visits.

b.) Planning a shared celebration that includes foster care youth, alumni and allies from all over Ohio who were a part of this advocacy effort - including YEP youth and supporters.

c.) Meeting with Representative Sykes, in order to further reform the way that Independent Living is funded in Ohio in the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Impact of Recession on Children

The Foundation for Child Development has released a report on the impact of the current economic recession on children.

They project that the percentage of children living in poverty is expected to reach 21 percent by 2010, and that many gains in family economic well-being since 1975 will be eliminated.

Graph from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Meanwhile, First Focus reports that, for the past five years, only one penny of every new, real non-defense dollar spent by the federal government has gone to children and children’s programs.

Timeline of Federal Child Welfare Legislation

Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption, Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Engaging Former Foster Children in Current Child Welfare Policy

As recently recognized by the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, former foster children can be engaged to generate positive change within the child welfare system in the following ways:

Foster Care Alumni as Consultants
• As work team members
• At state committee meetings
• At special events (i.e. conferences)
• As a regular featured column in child welfare publications
• As co-interviewers of selected trainers
• As observers of trainers
• As experts to provide technical assistance to trainers
• As curriculum content experts

Foster Care Alumni as Trainers
• As trainers – (age 18+ and no longer in the custody of children services)
• As co-trainers – (age 18+ and no longer in the custody of children services)
• As panel presenters in workshops
• As guest speakers in the training room
• In media (video-clips, distance learning, GoToMeetings)

Foster Care Alumni as Curriculum Developers
• As content experts
• As contributors/authors

Top Five Online Resources for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

1.) Foster Care Alumni of America's mission is to connect the alumni community and to transform policy and practice, ensuring opportunity for people in and from foster care:

2.) FosterClub provides online networking and the opportunity to apply to become an All-Stars, and travel the country inspiring their younger peers and infusing youth perspective into the child welfare system:

3.) The National Independent Living Association is committed to enhancing the futures of young people by promoting quality services including technical assistance, youth advocacy, and support mechanisms to assist youth who are making the transition into adulthood:

*Please note: Now that the Casey It's My Life conference is on hiatus, the annual NILA conference is the primary conference that facilitates interaction between foster care youth, foster care alumni and child welfare professionals this year.

4.) Orphan Foundation of America is the country’s leading provider of scholarships for foster youth pursuing higher education. They have a virtual mentoring program to support students seeking higher ed:

5.) Youth Communication helps teenagers develop their skills in reading, writing, thinking, and reflection, so they can acquire the information they need to make thoughtful choices about their lives:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lisa, where have you been?

Frequently Asked Question: "Lisa, where have you been? Why haven't you updated your blog lately?"

Answer: "I am in advocacy overdrive, because during a recession, foster care funding and supports are the first things to go!"

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Making college more accessible for foster care youth in Ohio

As a former foster child, current youth advocate and co-founder of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America....I am so excited about this Ohio Reach May 12th event!

Back in 1989, when I entered college as a 16-year-old ward of the state in the custody of a legal guardian named Mrs. Virginia Combs, there were NO foster care liaisons.

There was only an admissions counselor at the University of Kentucky named Randy Mills who read my transcript, reviewed my ACT scores, met with me in person, and decided to take a chance on me.

I grabbed that chance, and ran with it. Mr. Mills didn't know that I would finish college and graduate school. He could not predict that one day I'd be offered the privilege of being a state leader in a national organization that exists to connect former foster children and positively transform the child welfare system.

Ohio Reach is important because there are 1,300 young adults "aging out" of the Ohio foster care system this year. They will face the adult world, in the midst of a recession, armed with only their courage, their dreams, and their endless potential.

If one person in their lives invests in them and offers guidance, without wanting anything in return, as they try to obtain the higher education that can pave the way for their future, that can make ALL the difference in terms of their future.

The goal of this project is to establish foster care liaisons at every Ohio community college and university, in order to address recruitment and retention of emancipated foster youth in Ohio’s higher education system.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Things that add up little by little, but make me sad all at once

Tonight, a wave of sadness swept unexpectedly up the banks of my emotional shore and pulled me in with its undertow.

And so, I asked myself: "What's beneath the waves?"

1. I'm sad that there isn't going to be a Casey "It's My Life" conference this year. Every year, this conference revitalizes the hearts and rekindles the energy of foster care youth, alumni and allies.

We need it more this year than ever: Young people are "aging out" of foster care in the midst of a recession.

Ohio folks have been planning for the 2009 IML conference ever since the 2008 one.

FCAA member Ryan Dollinger and I had hoped to co-present a "When Helping You Is Hurting Me" workshop about boundaries with bio-family members and/or when helping other foster care youth/alumni.

My logical mind knows that the only thing to do is:
- Figure out another way to compile and share this information by other means
- Channel my energies into Ohio conferences this year
- Google my little librarian heart out and find out some other national conferences to present at...

And I will DO these things.

But there is something about the Casey "It's My Life" conference that is incredibly special and incredibly unique, and the fact that it's not going to take place this year is just such a shame.

2. I'm sad that after all this time, we still have such a long way to go.

I gotta admit... I am flat-out baffled by the decisions and practices of some organizations:

- Why opt for token involvement of foster care youth/alumni rather than empowering them as current and future leaders?

- Why invite youth to go to DC, without providing a stipend that is sufficient to cover their meals?

- Why put young people in the spotlight to showcase a program, without taking the time to realize that:

a. They are homeless
b. They are in deep emotional pain over something that happened during the event
c. They are struggling (at school, at work, in some other area of their life)

3. I'm sad because I wonder: Is what I do ever going to be enough?

That's the real question beneath all of this.... isn't it?

As a leader, I sometimes feel like Sisyphus rolling an enormous rock up a mountain, only to see it roll back down on its own weight.

I volunteer in my position for the Ohio chapter of FCAA. I have a full-time job that I need to be faithful (and, in this economy, incredibly productive and proactive) in. I have a marriage to maintain and two stepdaughters whom I love, love, love because they hang the moon.

I need to juggle these things. How do I do this?

Well, so far I:
- Take/make phone calls in my car while I'm driving to/from work
- Schedule foster care events on my days off work (or work extra days to make up for them)
- Spend every lunch hour at work (no kidding) working on some aspect of foster care reform

So far it has worked out:
- I was rated "Distinguished" two years in a row at work (highest rating a person can receive)
- I'm still married, love the man, and we are currently refinancing our house
- My stepdaughters hung the moon at our house last weekend and shared songs and skits (Flight of the Conchords, not theirs) last weekend.

But it has to KEEP working because:
- I remember when I first "aged out" of foster care, and what it was like to have unmet needs, but didn't want to overburden people

- I remember making sure I alternated who I asked for help about things, because when you don't belong to anyone, you have to be careful who you ask for help because they will get tired of hearing from you.

- Which is why it breaks my heart that there are foster care youth and alumni all over my state today who are facing the world (in a recession) feeling this degree of being alone.

- Which means that TODAY I must maintain a healthy level of emotional reserves so that I can be there for them when I can, refer them when I can't, and still be there for the family I've built for myself today.

- Or else I WILL be pulled in by the undertow - and I can't allow that to happen, because then I won't be helpful to anybody.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I will have bounced back from this. I know this about myself.

- Because the work is WORTH it
- Because everything that we are doing now can and WILL make a difference

But I share this internal struggle because... we all have them. Let's admit it. And just as our scars remind us that the past was real, our struggles remind us that the work we do is worth it.

Comic from my favorite online artist, Ozge, who captures the beauty and wisdom of Ordinary Things:

Child Welfare Training Survey

One of the projects that I am working on right now is a national survey of programs that enlist foster care youth and alumni as child welfare trainers. Ohio's statewide child welfare training system would like to better incorporate the voices of first-hand experience into child welfare training in our state.