Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Foster Parenting: Expectation Verses Reality

Please note that I am not writing this as a foster parent, but as a former foster child. As an alumna of the foster care system, I am often approached by foster parents requesting my advice. 

As parents -- whether foster, adoptive, kinship, step or biological:
  • We work to empower and invest in our children, and hope they make wise choices in the future. 
  • We provide our children with stability. This means sometimes saying no. This means having personal boundaries. 
  • To be a parent (foster/adoptive/bio) is not to be a "victim" -- but rather, a role model.
  • The goal is not to "rescue," but to reflect on experience and to serve as a lifelong resource for our children
  • When we help our children, we are making that investment not so they will be grateful, but as a conscious choice. 
Supportive adults are particularly important in the lives of young adults who are working to achieve personal independence and a successful young adult life

Being clear and direct about expectations is particularly important when it comes to offering post-emancipation support. For example: ""If you move back in with me, let’s talk about what we can both expect from each other."

Let's say you parent a child, and that young person makes self-destructive decisions after moving out on their own.

For example, one foster parent was concerned about a young lady who she adopted who cheated on her husband and is facing divorce...

My response was:
  • The situation is definitely not ideal, but it is a life lesson. If I were talking with that young person, I would explain that: "Marriage comes with its own set of boundaries. In marriage, you are committing yourself to the other person - and if you violate that trust, then divorce can be a consequence of that choice."
  • But one bad choice doesn't have to determine a person's entire future. It can be an opportunity to make better relational choices in the future. 
  • I would NOT come to the conclusion that this young lady is forever broken, or that she will never be able to commit to another person. 
  • This was a misstep, a wrongful action, a mistake - and this is an opportunity for a parent to offer love and support. Not to excuse the action. Nor make excuses. It was a violation of a commitment, and consequences have resulted. 
  • But to love the young lady, and continue to believe in her potential as a loving, caring human being. To challenge her to be the best she can be. 
  • Not to expect less from her as a "foster" child.
Parents are human beings, not super-heroes, and will undoubtedly experience days of discouragement.

When those times come, it's important to take time out in order to:
  • Rest 
  • Relax
  • Refuel
  • Recharge
  • Reflect
  • Renew
Sometimes we have to take some time out for ourselves, in order to return with a clear head, and a resilient heart.

After taking time out to process and heal, we often find our physical and emotional energy levels returning.

We remember WHY we do WHAT we do in the first place -- and where our sense of joy comes from...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's At Stake With Workforce Investment Reauthorization Act

Did you know that:
  •  One in six young people between ages 16 and 24 years old are unattached to work or school in America?    (Approximately 6.7 million“disconnected” youth)
  • There are approximately 3.4 million young people who are “chronically disconnected,” having no attachment to school or the labor market since the age of 16.
And yet...
In June, the House Education and Workforce Committee passed a WIA Reauthorization Bill that would eliminate youth jobs and training.

 The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (HR 4297) would cut employment and training services for approximately 250,000 young people across the nation. 

Creating Multiple Pathways to Success for Transitional Youth

Source: Comments to U.S. Department of Education
Docket ID: ED-2012–OVAE–0014
Linda Harris and Kisha Bird, CLASP, July 2012

Led by the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Education, the Interagency Work Group on Disconnected Youth was established by the Obama Administration to advance national policy solutions for youth ages 16 to 24 who are disconnected from education, the workforce, and opportunity.   

As a part of this work, the Administration is advancing Performance Partnership Pilots designed to incentivize cross-systems approaches to serving the nation's 6.7 million disconnected youth. 

The Department of Education issued a Request for Information this summer to solicit input into development of the Performance Partnership Pilots as well as federal cross-agency policy development and funding decisions

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Child Poverty is On the Rise

Map from 1980:
Gray: Elderly
Red: Elderly and Children
Orange: Child Poverty

Map from 2010
Orange: Child Poverty

Check out this interactive map:


The Myth of Trickle Down Economics

Source of chart: Center for American Progress
A separate report, the 12th edition of the Economic Policy Institute's State of Working America, reflects the same findings: http://stateofworkingamerica.org/

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Young People (Ages 16-19) Disconnected From the Workforce

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that young adults have been hit the hardest by the recession and its aftermath. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) recent budget and economic update, the percentage of people over age 16 who are working or actively seeking work has slipped fairly steadily for the past few years.

The recession and lack of job opportunities have left many young people (ages 16-19) disconnected from the labor force.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wisdom gleaned from CCAI Reports

There is much to be learned by reading through CCAI's annual Foster Youth Internship Report.

Each year, there is one particular topic that resonates with me deeply.

In 2011, I kept nodding my head at the following quotes from "Improving Accountability by Tracking Youth Outcomes in Care:"      *pg. 38

  • "The current system lacks crucial data on the life outcomes of youth in foster care."
  • "True reform of the foster care system depends on whether we are willing to measure ‘what counts’ – and what counts are the life outcomes of youth both in and after aging out of care."
  • "The tragedy in Rosie’s story is not just that she aged out of care unable to develop permanent connections or take care of herself, but that the child welfare agency was neither aware of nor held accountable for Rosie’s ultimate well-being."
  • "While Rosie was in care, the child welfare agency was required to collect information on several factors, such as how many times her social worker visited the home or whether she was enrolled in school. What the agency was  not expected to report on were details pertinent to her life outcomes such as her educational attainment, mental health and emotional and social development. "   
  • "The agency was not even asked to report on whether Rosie was self-sufficient enough to live independently . To the child welfare agency, the only outcome that mattered regarding Rosie was that she aged out from care."
  • "Until the child welfare system and the funding that supports it are structured in a way that both tracks and supports successful outcomes, reform will continue be constrained and the success of our youth in foster care will continue to be thwarted." 
The suggestion made in 2011 was to create and maintain "an effective database that will produce outcome-driven results needs to incorporate data from children who are at a younger age than seventeen and assess where the foster system is unable to provide youth in care with the skills and services they need to be successful ."

This year,  my heart and mind responded immediately to the section of CCAI's Foster Youth Internship Report titled, "Life's Transitions Do Not Happen Overnight:"  *pg. 56
  •  "Life's transitions are a critical part of human development."
  • "The current foster system is designed with the expectation that the transition from adolescence into adulthood can occur overnight."
  • "Autonomy plays a critical role in adolescent development; however... the strict rules and regulations placed on foster  youth by the state, foster parents and group home staff limits the amount of independence the youth experience."
Three areas of autonomy, vital to adolescent development were described:
  1. Emotional Autonomy: Shifting from reliance on parents to developing a circle of people upon who they can rely... This includes the growing ability to navigate relationships.
  2. Behavioral Autonomy: Making decisions independently and acting on those choices. Having the freedom to make decisions, even experiencing the consequences of those decisions within a safe environment, is a cornerstone to developing personal judgement.
  3. Value Autonomy: Developing the ability to think critically and make judgements involving higher-level thinking, such as attitudes and beliefs.
The recommendation made in 2012 is to incorporate a halfway house model into transitional living programs for foster youth. This model would include housing, job training, and the development of a network of relationships, in order to help our young people to "transition into adulthood with the knowledge, support and skills they need to succeed in life."

Sunday, August 05, 2012

At the end of the day, what did YOUTH think?

When it comes to the 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster Care Teens and Young Adults, it is the YOUTH perceptions regarding the day went that are most important.

These are some of the comments from evaluations submitted by the 200 youth in attendance at the conference:
  • Please keep this going, I love every bit of it. I feel and see that even people that don’t know me would like to see me succeed in life, and that gives me all the tools I need to keep my head up and stick to my road of success. 
  • I loved it ☺ 
  • I liked everything 
  • It was really good 
  • Loved everything 
  • I really liked the connecting the dots conference because I know there is other people out there like me 
  • Great conference!! I learned a lot. 
  • I loved it 
  • I love the whole event 
  • I really enjoyed the whole thing
  • I enjoyed myself and I’m glad that I came. A lot of teens should come. 
  • I loved being here and would come back again 
  • All the classes helped me a lot and I really feel that I have learned some important things today 
  • A very fun event! 
  • Enjoyed myself 
  • It was a nice lesson in all – the Suits are one my favorite lessons 
  • It was a very good experience 
  • It was a fun learning experience that I hope to be a part of again
  • Positive 
  • A very enlightening event  
  • I think every course I did was great and I think they should be repeated next time (referring specifically to Financial Aid resources, Keeping Your Life in Balance, Job Interview Role-Plays) 
  • I think they did a good job with giving out information 
  • Had a great time. Food was good. 
  • I thought it was all very helpful. I learned a lot at all of the events 
  • I loved everything about it 
  • Love to listen to the outlook of what others had to say about their experience and how they will help foster children to voice what is best for them 
  • It was very fun, useful and organized 
  • I really enjoyed all the classes 
  • I think this is a good program 
  • Great program 
  • I think that this is a great program. Thank you. 
  • It was fun and exciting
  • Had a good time 
  • I had a great time 
  • I think it was a great day overall 
  • I would love to come again. Everything was helpful. 
  • I would be glad to come back next year and be one of the speakers and put forth my ideas to reach out to children that grew up like me
  • Very good turnout. Staff was very nice. 
  • I want to thank you for your time and helpfulness
  • It was a fun event and I hope to do it again. 
  • I like all of the workshops that I attended – they were fun but very helpful.
  •  I received the right help
  • I feel more confident about my future 
  • I would like to come to these each year 
One young lady just wrote "Thanks" on the evaluation, over and over again, for each workshop category, ending with “Thanks so much” and a heart at the end.

Connecting the Dots Conference makes the front page of the Columbus Dispatch

The 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster Care Teens and Young Adults was featured on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, August 4, 2012.


Monday, July 23, 2012

What's Your Motivation and Vision?


One day, a traveler came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked each man, one by one, what he was doing.
  •  The first man said, “I’m earning my pay: we have to get a certain number by end of day.” 
  •  The second man said, “I’m the best stonecutter here; I’m faster and better than others.” 
  •  The third man looked up at the sky with vision and purpose, and said,“I’m building a cathedral.”    

What’s Your Stone in the Wall? 
During the July 2012 Ohio Youth Advisory Board meeting, participating youth filled out template with their personal vision for making a difference.

Here are some of their responses...

  • "Never forget: "Nothing about us without us" ~ Jackie W.  (ally of the foster care movement)
  • "Form a partnership with youth and see them as a resource and learn from them!" ~ Rebecca H. (ally of the foster care movement)
  • "Empower youth to develop their skills and get more involved in child welfare. My vision is to have younger youth getting involved so that they can advocate and become well-rounded about the system, so that they can build on the difference we made and make even more and even better changes than we did." ~ Active youth advisory board member

  • "To teach children how to dance and also become a social worker. Make sure that all children I encounter have a dream and will never be afraid to follow it, because everyone is important no matter what their dreams are." ~ John D. 
  • "To change the outlook of foster care by showing that everyone has a path to walk down with a choice." ~ Katelen B. 
  • "Break the status quo, and make the transition from foster care to adulthood as easy and fair as possible. Empower youth to share their voices with boldness. Change the outlook that society has on foster care. We are not where we came from -- we are where we are going!" ~ unsigned
  • "Have a plan for all kids coming into foster care so that they will not have to go through what I went through. I want foster youth who have been through the system to step up and make a change for other youth in the system. Because as the vision says, us foster youth can and will make a difference." ~ Latrelle S.

  • "I want to be a lawyer so that I can help other foster children find a good home to live in." ~ Terry K.
  • "Help all youth find a home with trust by telling adoptive parents that no one is perfect, they just need to be a friend to foster youth in need." ~ Alexander F.
  • "To be the best father I can be" (breaking the cycle of foster care) ~ Cory G.
  • "Use my story to put myself in people's shoes." ~ Javon J. 
  • "Talk to kids that are in the system and try to give them advice in how to deal with certain things and people and how to get to where they want to be in life." ~ Michaela B. 
  • "Give other youth a voice and opportunities to speak out." ~ Destiny W. 

  • "To change the opinions and view of the foster care system, and help people understand what it is really like" ~ Victoria W.
  • "To be a leader and lead by example." ~  Lisa H.
  •  "Help others continue to better themselves and never give up, just like I will never give up. My vision is to be a foster care alumni that everyone remembers because they would see that I tried and worked to make a difference for youth in foster care." ~ Dominique J.
  • "To make a difference in others' lives and help others who need help." ~ Kaytie R.
  • "Be a mother for those who do not have a mother (when I am older)." ~ Kia W.

  • "Changing school policies that penalize foster kids when they move from one home to another by not allowing them to continue to participate in team sports" ~ Zachary M.
  • "Help foster parents and social workers better serve youth." ~ Thora George
  • "Normalizing foster care. Closing the gap between regular teens and foster teens." ~ Alegha P.
  • "Change the way things are and the way they have to be. Create a lifestyle of foster care, not a system." ~ Adrian M.
  • "Encourage others to be more understanding. Impact children all over the world greatly. Help others help themselves." ~ Brianna C. 

  • "To go to college for Criminal Justice, minoring in Music Education. I also plan to start a nonprofit business for underprivileged youth, both in and out of foster care. I hope to mentor youth who have no stable mentor in their lives."  ~ Vinney M.
  • "Help myself in order to help others. Talk to other youth and engage them. Go to college and pursue my career. Gain knowledge and progress. Grow!!!" ~ Michael B. 
  • "Maker sure every youth in Ohio hears my story and can be encouraged by it. Also, so they can have faith to move on with their life through any trials." ~ De'Stanie W. 
  • "Show people that I can change my life and show that I'm not going to be a lifer." - H. C.
  • "Gain in knowledge and process, and grow. Keep in touch with all the connections I made and keep networking with the YAB and other groups even after I age out" ~ Dominique J. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Advice for Foster Care Alumni When Working With Teens

Nine times out of ten, when I volunteer my time as a foster care alumna to reach out to teens and young adults of today, they are incredibly receptive.

But not always.

And why on earth should I expect them to be?

I still remember being that 14 year-old in an all-girls group home, pissed off and bored out of my mind, and not hesitating to "smart off" to staff members. I was in pain, and sometimes it felt better if the people around me felt some of the hurt, too.

I also remember that, at age 15 and 16, I "tested" the very staff members that I respected the most - because I wanted to see if they would still care..

So, after a challenging experience on Monday, I've been mulling it over and have come to the following conclusion as a Life Lesson:

Always remember who you are, and where you came from -- it keeps you humble and makes you strong. And hopefully, it will also give you compassion and patience for others... Because you once were where they are now -- and really, at that time, did you need one more person to judge you? 

Maybe what you really needed at that time was someone who was willing to: 

  • Look below the surface 
  • See beyond the tough shell you created in order to protect yourself 
  • Ignore the smart-aleck remarks that came so easily and freely at the time 
  • And, just for once, UNCONDITIONALLY love you

I am willing to live up to this charge, with no illusions that doing so will always be fun...

Friday, June 01, 2012

Kudos to NACAC

Kudos to the NACAC Board of Directors for passing a position statement identifying services and supports that should be provided to youth at risk of aging out of care and those who do leave care without a permanent family.