Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Recognizes and Supports ACTION Ohio's efforts

A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee

Ten years ago this month, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I founded the bipartisan Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. We launched this caucus a decade ago to give voice to the thousands of young people in America who deserved a platform to break the silence on the challenges and success stories of foster care. This issue impacts every community in America.

Our caucus not only provides the platform, we encourage foster youth to participate and lead discussions on issues that matter most to them. It’s become a vital network for young people to connect with other youth in foster care and empowers them to share their ideas with researchers, advocates and lawmakers.

When I first got involved in foster care and adoption policy more than 20 years ago, I learned kids in foster care are the last ones to have a say in determining their future. If they are even asked at all. I learned older youth in foster care are brimming with innovative ideas to improve the system. And yet, they rarely had an opportunity to share those ideas with policymakers. When we launched the foster youth caucus in 2009, we made this a specific priority. Our mission was to ensure foster youth had a seat at the table.

Over the years, we’ve hosted discussions to consider barriers facing foster youth, including access to education, pervasive rates of homelessness and juvenile justice involvement, and substance abuse. We heard astounding stories of seemingly impossible success, as well as heartbreaking examples about things that are broken in the foster care system. The caucus invited stakeholders in the foster care system to learn about innovative programs working in communities across the country. We’ve followed up with researchers to understand why. But most importantly, we listened to the real experts on foster care: youth who have firsthand experience.

Listening directly to them has made a big impact on policy development and implementation. Time and again, foster kids tell us they want stability, a safe place to live, and a loving family. Many times, we heard testimonials from foster kids that if someone had just helped their parents, they might have avoided foster care in the first place. These conversations led to enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act. This federal law reforms the foster care system to focus on what keeps kids safely at home, rather than bringing them into foster care.

One of the challenges facing older teens who age-out of the system without reunification with their biological family or adoption is homelessness. Once again, we heard from foster youth to solve the problem.

In 2013, ACTION Ohio, a group of foster youth and foster care alumni began advocating for changes in housing policy to access federal housing assistance. Although HUD’s Family Unification Vouchers were previously available to youth who “aged out” of care, this group flagged flaws in the program. We collaborated and crafted solutions. These efforts led to the development of HUD’s Foster Youth to Independence Initiative and my introduction in 2017 with Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) of the bicameral Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. This legislation to make additional improvements to accessible housing for foster youth was reintroduced and is making its way through the 116th Congress.

In its first decade, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth flexed its influence and made a difference. In the 116th Congress, nearly one-third of the Senate is on board with 32 senators from both sides of the aisle. Even in divisive political times, there’s a chord of bipartisanship to help kids in foster care.

All children deserve a safe, permanent, loving home and consistent, caring adults to parent them. Society owes a debt of gratitude for all those who work to achieve this goal. Foster parents, caseworkers, court officials and youth advocates are a lifeline to vulnerable youth. I commend foster kids and teens for speaking up, demanding action, and fervently working to improve a system that in some cases failed them.

As a co-founder and current co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, I will continue listening and leading the way so foster youth are empowered to pursue their dreams like every child in America.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board endorses FSHO

Many thanks to the Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board for endorsing the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act:

  • "Brown and Grassley’s bill would offer a lifeline to former foster children who find themselves suddenly on their own and without the family support most young adults can count on."

  • "Currently they have to join long waiting lists for housing vouchers through a federal program, and many become homeless. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would make the vouchers available to aged-out foster youth on demand and in more communities."

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently being championed in the U.S. Senate.

Diffusion of Innovation

Adopting a new idea or behavior is a process - and some people are quicker to do so than others. 

1.) Innovators -tend to be eager to try it out; they might have helped design it in the first place
2.) Early Adopters - are willing to adapt to change and try out new methods/ideas
3.) Early Majority - respond to success and evidence of the innovation's effectiveness
4.) Late Majority - wait to see if the innovation really works
5.) Laggards - are skeptical of change and bound by tradition; they tend to be the last to buy-in

Strategies that can help promote buy-in to a new innovation (such as FYI Housing Vouchers for former foster youth) include:

1.) Explaining the why: They need to be aware of the need for this change. Why is the status quo not working?

2.) Explaining why this matters: Assuming they care about the big picture (i.e. improving youth outcomes) and appealing to their values.

3.) Coaching them through the how: They might at first perceive that the innovation is difficult/complicated. Offering them support and walking them through it can make a big difference.

4.) Asking the innovators and early adopters to try it out first, to prove it works: This evidence helps encourage others who might be fearful, uncertain or reluctant to be open to change.

5.) Gathering evidence: Tracking data in order to demonstrate tangible results.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

We each have our personal journeys.

As a foster care youth, I was accepted into college at 16 years old, and entrusted to care of a legal guardian.

After being emancipated at age 17, and getting my own apartment, I tried to save a former group home roommate - and ended up homeless. Today, we have a workshop about this called “When Helping You Is Hurting Me.”

I couch-surfed. I slept on the college bus. I slept in college libraries.

I kept on working and going to school, and saved every penny I could.

I was lucky enough to find a future dorm/home in the UK Wesley Foundation I was able to make it through college and grad school.

That was forever ago —- and it doesn’t make sense that our nation hasn’t done more to help with housing supports since then.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act is long-overdue.

During the 2018 trip to DC that Ohio foster care youth made, we had a legislative meeting with Senator Brown’s Office during which there were three of us former fosters in one room who had aged out at age 16, due to academic progress. And  yet, the tightrope when it comes to succeeding vs. ending up homeless hadn’t changed. They were youth and still fighting the same battles to survive that I had.

Our younger brothers and sisters of the system deserve better - and  things don’t tend to get better unless we work together to make them so. For a young person with a foster care history who is experiencing homelessness this is immediate and urgent, and not just some random issue that can be scheduled on a calendar.

 If you have the chance, please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your Senator's office. Please ask your Senator to co-sponsor The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (S. 2803) this week and move it to a vote next week. The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives. Our hope is for the U.S. Senate to move forward and pass it THIS YEAR. ❤️❤️❤️

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Inequity undermines foster care outcomes

In Ohio, social service programs are state sponsored and county administered. This is true for some other states as well -- but, according to the Center for Community Solutions, Ohio is unique in the degree to which we rely on local support of health and social service programs.

While all 50 states have property taxes, Ohio relies on locally-generated funds to support health and social services to a greater degree than most other states do.

This leads to inequity of resources, inconsistency of resources, and explains why, when it comes to social services, our state might seem to be doing the same thing 88 different ways.

Ongoing support for social services in each county is far from guaranteed. If local levies fail, agencies must determine how to maintain mandated services with fewer resources.

What would it take for our state to fund social services differently, rather than relying so heavily on local funds?