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.