Sunday, September 13, 2020

Responding to the passage of HB 8

In response to the passage of HB 8, which reduces the number of training hours required for foster parents, Ohio foster care youth and alumni have talked about:

  • Launching an advocacy effort to “Make Every Training Hour Count” that focuses on the need for training tracks vs. just getting enough hours.

  • We would really love to see mandatory training tracks on independent living/life skill resources for foster parents (and caseworkers) who take in teens.

  • And to address situations like the foster parent who said she takes the same classes every year just to get hours in.

We truly have a wonderful partner in Kim Eckhart of Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. Her blog post about the passage of HB 8 was excellent, especially the following quotes:

  • Training for foster caregivers gives them tools to be effective. Part of being a supportive caregiver includes knowing how to navigate the resources provided by the educational and health care system so that children can flourish. This is especially important as teenagers learn independence and prepare to live on their own. Advocates in Ohio have fought hard to create programs that benefit youth during this transition: namely housing supports and educational vouchers. But these programs only benefit youth if they know about them. Foster caregivers must be trained in the application guidelines for these programs.

  • Leverage youth voice and experience to improve training effectiveness. The change created by HB 8 must be accompanied by a vision from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for comprehensive, standardized, and accessible training. This vision should be informed by current and former foster youth, whose lived experience is the most valuable expertise.

Kim also shared that, with the passage of HB8, CDF-Ohio may have an opportunity to be a part of a workgroup to review the rules around training. 

Here are two testimonials that were recently submitted by former foster youth:

1.) Raven Grice serves on the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, and after conferring with her fellow Youth Advisory Board, she compiled three specific recommendations, which are included in her written testimony:

  1. Independent Living Departments should be mandated in every county.
  2. Foster parents and caseworkers that serve teens should be mandated to attend training on resources to assist in the transition to young adulthood.
  3. Private foster care agencies that are entrusted with teenagers should be held accountable to adequately and consistently prepare them with life skills.

2.) Merri Haren, a former foster youth from Stark County, wrote her testimonial to support Raven's recommendations. She shared her own experiences and how life skills preparation in Stark County helps her, ending with the final message:

  • Raven Grice, a fellow member of the Ohio foster care system, has listed specific recommendations in her testimony to the Independent Living system that I believe will provide the structural framework necessary to get this program back up and running with clearly set guidelines and steps.

  • Her suggestions and specific calls to action are backed by the end result of someone who received those services. There is a reason former youth are coming together now for the youth that are still in the system- we know how essential this program is and we want better for our fellow brothers and sisters aging out of it. Please hear our words and consider the benefit to the economy, but more importantly, society, that this program has on our youth.”

As of this morning, additional young people are writing testimony as well.

Responding to the passage of HB 8


 In response to the passage of HB 8, which reduces the number of training hours required for foster parents, Ohio foster care youth and alumni have talked about:

  • Launching an advocacy effort to “Make Every Training Hour Count” that focuses on the need for training tracks vs. just getting enough hours.
  • We would really love to see mandatory training tracks on independent living/life skill resources for foster parents (and caseworkers) who take in teens
  • And to address situations like the foster parent who said she takes the same classes every year to just get hours in.
We truly have a wonderful partner in Kim Eckhart of Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. Her blog post about the passage of HB 8 was excellent. I especially LOVE these quotes:
  • Training for foster caregivers gives them tools to be effective. Part of being a supportive caregiver includes knowing how to navigate the resources provided by the educational and health care system so that children can flourish. This is especially important as teenagers learn independence and prepare to live on their own. Advocates in Ohio have fought hard to create programs that benefit youth during this transition: namely housing supports and educational vouchers. But these programs only benefit youth if they know about them. Foster caregivers must be trained in the application guidelines for these programs.
  • Leverage youth voice and experience to improve training effectiveness. The change created by HB 8 must be accompanied by a vision from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for comprehensive, standardized, and accessible training. This vision should be informed by current and former foster youth, whose lived experience is the most valuable expertise.
Kim also shared that, with the passage of HB8, CDF-Ohio may have an opportunity to be a part of a workgroup to review the rules around training. Here are two testimonials that were recently submitted by former foster youth: 1.) Raven Grice serves on the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, and after conferring with her fellow Youth Advisory Board, she compiled three specific recommendations, which are included in her written testimony:
  1. Independent Living Departments should be mandated in every county.
  2. Foster parents and caseworkers that serve teens should be mandated to attend training on resources to assist in the transition to young adulthood.
  3. Private foster care agencies that are entrusted with teenagers should be held accountable to adequately and consistently prepare them with life skills.
2.) Merri Haren, a former foster youth from Stark County, wrote her testimonial to support Raven's recommendations. She shared her own experiences and how life skills preparation in Stark County helps her, ending with the final message:
  • Raven Grice, a fellow member of the Ohio foster care system, has listed specific recommendations in her testimony to the Independent Living system that I believe will provide the structural framework necessary to get this program back up and running with clearly set guidelines and steps.
  • Her suggestions and specific calls to action are backed by the end result of someone who received those services. There is a reason former youth are coming together now for the youth that are still in the system- we know how essential this program is and we want better for our fellow brothers and sisters aging out of it. Please hear our words and consider the benefit to the economy, but more importantly, society, that this program has on our youth.”
As of this morning, additional young people are writing testimony as well.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Letter to the Editor, August 2020

Letter: Young people in foster care authored housing-voucher bill
The Columbus Dispatch, August 24, 2020

Many thanks to The Dispatch for recognizing the needs of the 3,000 young people who experience homelessness every year in Franklin County, including former foster youth who enter into young adulthood without being adopted (“Dream house,” Dispatch article, Aug. 15).

In addition to our joy regarding Marsh Brook Place and appreciation of Star House and Huckleberry House, ACTION Ohio is deeply proud of what Ohio foster youths accomplished by designing federal housing mechanisms that are creating a positive ripple effect throughout the nation. Their 2019 meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson led to the creation of the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative.

Ohio’s foster care youth and alumni have authored a federal bill, which passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently being considered by the Senate. This bill is based on the ability of child welfare to anticipate the date when a young person ages out of foster care, and to access a housing voucher that is timed with their exit.

This cost-neutral solution was designed by the young people themselves, with support from the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, to weave together existing resources to create a platform for economic independence, resulting in employment, improved educational prospects and self-sufficiency.

Lisa Dickson, Communications chair, ACTION Ohio (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now), Columbus


Monday, August 3, 2020

State and National Advocacy for a Foster Care Ombudsman Office

Here in Ohio, we are advocating for the creation of a statewide Foster Care Ombudsman's Office on both a state and national level.

When it comes to the most effective, efficient and speedy way to move forward to create this Office, the road to passing statewide legislation here in Ohio might be shorter, simpler and less complicated. This also be a first step in figuring out a national solution. But, we are going to go ahead and pursue both opportunities at the same time.

We have learned the hard way in our state that, even with the best of intentions, after being urged to create, operate and publicize a Foster Youth Ombudsman's Office, their first response might be to try to put it "under" child welfare and/or to replicate models (such as the one for aging adults) that they already know.

And, in a way that makes sense, because the way that each of us makes sense of the world is to try to put new information into existing categories. However, these two things matter most when it comes to moving forward, and we definitely aren't willing to compromise on them.


 1.) The need to house this office outside of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services:

Our young people have requested that this future office be:
  • Housed under an independent and autonomous agency with oversight specific to child welfare, and not part of the state's division of child and family services.
  • It is vitally important that the Ombudsman's Office have regulatory power, in order for youth concerns to be independently investigated. 
  • Here in Ohio, our young people have suggested that this office be housed under the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. This would allow this office to be staffed by paid lawyers, as they investigate the safety of young people as potential "victims of crime."

Why independent investigation of youth concerns matters:
  • The very reason this "Ask" came up in the first place is because Ohio foster care youth shared concerns about:
    • Being placed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and their basic needs were not met in certain placements. Regarding residential facilities and group homes, this was often accompanied by the repeated phrase: "Need more cameras," and this direct quote from a young person that: "The danger of some group homes and residential placements is that things happen behind walls, and other people don’t know what’s really going on."
    • Trying unsuccessfully to reach out for help, including being unable to reach their caseworker and/or GAL and/or trying to call their local agency hotline and experiencing long wait times, lack of follow-through on reports made directly by youth, and staff answering the phone who are not youth-friendly.
  • In California, one of the learning curves and hard-earned lessons that they have learned in the process of creating and maintaining a Foster Care Ombudsman's Office is the need for this office to have more authority and more independence.
  • To quote from one of our young people: "I have great concerns about the Foster Care Ombudsman being under the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. If the Ombudsman were being paid by the same organization that funds, the Foster Care System it would be impossible for the Ombudsman to be impartial. Therefore, as former foster youth we had hoped that the Ombudsman would under the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

2.) The need for this office to specifically serve youth and young adults:
  • The population served would be youth experiencing abuse in foster, adoptive, kinship, respite, residential and group home placements.
  • Ohio foster care youth and alumni repeatedly requested that this office needs to be separate from whatever mechanism is established to support foster caregivers, in order to avoid a conflict of interest. For example: A youth reports abuse; their foster parent wants to protect themselves from the allegation.
  • Likewise, the model for service delivery should be based on a Youth-Centered Framework, rather than mirroring the existing ombudsman for aging adults, which was one suggestion that had come up on our state that the youth vetoed.
  • With services to include toll-free statewide hotline that young people can contact directly with concerns about their current placement and their rights and well-being, to be resolved within a speedy timeframe.

Why focusing on young people and a youth-centered approach matters:

  • The very reason this "Ask" came up in the first place is because Ohio foster care youth shared concerns about:
    • Not feeling seen or heard, or even listened to when they tried to express concerns: “If a caseworker would open a case against my biological parents for this allegation, then if it happens in a guardian, kinship, respite, foster, adoptive, group home, residential placement, it should also be thoroughly investigated.”
  • Additional quotes from current/former foster youth during statewide Foster Care Forums:
    • It has come to our attention that Ohio foster parents are requesting that the needed Ombudsman be available to them too. While I care what foster care and kinship care parents go through, this would be counter-productive and a conflict of interest.
    • I think that it is important that youth have their own Ombudsman office separate from one that cares for foster parents because the two needs will likely come into conflict and potentially make youth reports futile.
    • The struggles that foster adoptive, respite and primary families face are important, and we care about and recognize the need for better accountability and communication between foster parents and their agencies. However, this needs to be addressed by a different mechanism, such as a separate office or a statewide grievance procedure.
    • Because it doesn’t make sense for a future Ombudsman’s Office to both defend allegations against foster parents and safeguard young people from further abuse. The office can’t do both of those things at the same time. Those two tasks will inevitably come into conflict with each other.

Monday, July 27, 2020

FYI: An example of legwork leading to success


On Friday, July 24, 2020, former foster youth and allies came together for a Virtual Celebration of the One-Year Anniversary of the Foster Youth to Independence Initiative.

Former foster youth from Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia each shared their goals for the future and how this resource has helped them personally to move forward to build their futures.

With help from FYI, a 22-year old young man named Love from Alabama is working to attain a business degree and hopes to one day start a business of his own. Love lives out the very meaning of his name by caring for others. His main goal and priority is to help the youth in his community and he is also working to become a professional speaker. His FYI voucher is helping him to focus on those goals for the next 36 months while being housing secure.

Amanda Metivier Hernandez of Facing Foster Care in Alaska is an alumna of foster care herself. She shared how meaningful it was for her to witness the advocacy for this through social media, and then to receive a call saying that 25 former foster youth in her area could get housing support. In her words, “This has been the greatest thing to happen to us in Alaska. We definitely feel the impact... I just want to say thank you to everyone, but especially the alumni who have gone to DC, shared their experiences and made this happen.”

What gave Amanda the most joy was to be on the ground to witness young people actually moving directly from foster care to vouchers, and also from homelessness to housing stability. One of these young people was Rae Lynn, who shared that FYI vouchers have helped her to build stability. Life before, during and after foster care can be chaotic, and Rae Lynn’s voucher has made it possible for her to live on her own and maintain housing without disruption.

In Colorado, young people came together with their adult supporters to have a viewing party for this virtual celebration. Participants shared that FYI have been an amazing resource that has made so many things possible in their lives. This included being able to focus on their college journey, attend college full-time and dedicate time to grades in order to work towards their future careers.

In Florida, Pam Bress, the founder of Ready for Life Brevard, shared her gratitude for the Fostering Youth to Independence initiative, “It is the absolute game-changer for us in Florida and Brevard County. Props to everybody for doing what needs to be done for the youth aging out of foster care. After ten years of being an attorney, representing youth in transition and seeing the need, this was the reason why I left Legal Aid and started Ready for Life Brevard.”

So far, Florida has been able to house twelve young people, and three of them shared their gratitude and experiences on Friday. Lajoya said that FYI has been a blessing in her life, and has helped her in so many ways. She had previously spent a year paying rent to sleep on someone’s couch, “not having a place to just settle down and grow and be a woman and bloom.” 

Destiny shared what it was like to transition from foster care at age 18, and to feel pressured to financially support her biological mother. FYI gave Destiny a chance to focus on building a future for herself -- it allowed her to focus on her own destiny. She is now living in her first apartment. Waking up in her own place makes her grateful every day, and she is eager to help others and to be a spokeswoman for FYI in the future.

Desiree participated in the call from work, while wearing a mask that said “No Legwork, No Success.”  Desiree exemplified that message by working during the call, with her manager’s permission. In the midst of her efforts, Desiree always took time to cheer on the goals and accomplishments of other youth.

Desiree shared what she desires for her future, “My goals are to eventually own my own house, and to create multiple sources of income for myself. To make sure to prepare; to put myself in a situation where I never need to worry about where I’m going to sleep. I’ve kind of dealt with that my whole life.

Desiree wrote a personal thank you to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his staff (including Chris Patterson, Danielle Bastarache and so many others) and to everyone who made this possible for her and others to have this opportunity:

“Thanks for making this opportunity possible for people who don’t have much opportunity. People who don’t feel seen in the world. I can only speak for myself so thank you for making me feel seen and heard in a world that makes me feel less than. 

“Thank you for empathizing and for reaching for more - to give other people a chance to reach for more. A lot of people grow up like us, in situations that makes them cold, but instead their hearts grew fonder for the idea of everyone getting a chance to excel.  So for that, I thank you. (FYI) teaches me not to give up on myself... Resilience has been my biggest strength, and now I live in gratitude.” 

Isabella from Ohio also wrote up her goals ahead of time. She wants to become a therapist, a future homeowner and to become a wife and a mother. She plans to pursue a PhD, while also exploring her creative talents as a singer, songwriter and future author.

FYI is making it possible for Isabella to build a savings account. She deeply appreciates the economic stability that FYI makes possible. Isabella also wanted to share how FYI has the potential to help former foster youth throughout the country avoid unnecessary debt. She expressed heartfelt appreciation for the independent living preparation that she had received.

Likewise, Shadjah from Virginia expressed her gratitude that FYI has helped her with stability and saving money. Her caseworker Vickie shared that this incredible resource is helping young people focus on work, education and building positive relationships and community networks.

It isn’t easy to be the parent you never had. Lindsey from Iowa aged out when she turned 18. She is a proud mother who plans to enter police academy in January 2021. FYI is making it possible for her to provide for her children, and focus on buying diapers, wipes and other necessities.

Holly of Oklahoma aged out of foster care at 18 years old, and experienced homelessness. “Now that I have a place to sleep at night, it’s very very helpful.” FYI is providing a platform for Holly to create a stable home for her children, maintain employment and seek to attain her GED and pursue college. Trying to juggle all of those goals without having a place to sleep at night was incredibly difficult. 

There is no blueprint for building a family after foster care, and FYI is helping many young people successfully navigate this unfamiliar territory. More than one participant shared that having this housing resource makes it possible for them to provide for and maintain custody of their children.

Dakota from Oregon had experienced three years of homelessness after aging out of of foster care. This is lost time that could have been avoided if he had been able to receive a housing voucher when he first left care. He is incredibly grateful that this resource exists now -- it is making it possible for him maintain full-time employment. In his words, “What does this resource mean to me?  It means stability and a brighter future.”  

Joelle, also from Oregon, shared how much it meant to no longer have to live out of a short-stay hotel. The sense of permanency that she is experiencing by not having to live in such impermanent status is helping her to create the foundation of stability that she has always craved.

Every young person on the call was clearly dedicated to maximizing this opportunity by making the very most out of it, and then paying it forward to help others. 

Other amazing speakers during the call included  Chris Patterson and Ryan Jones from HUD, HHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, Jamole Callahan from ACTION Ohio, Ruth Anne White from the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, and foster care alumna Christina Meredith who is heading up efforts to move FYI forward in Texas.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson celebrates the one-year anniversary of FYI

If Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies had never traveled to DC from 2013-2019, these vouchers wouldn’t exist - and that is truly humbling.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

2020 FYI Virtual Celebration

Click to enlarge


#FosterYouthtoIndependenceMonth
#FYIworks

Young people throughout the nation who are participating in the Foster Youth to Independence initiative expressed their thanks to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and his staff on Friday, July 24, 2020.

Former foster youth from Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia shared their goals for the future and how this resource has helped them personally to move forward to build their futures.

Additional speakers included HUD FYI Lead Chris Patterson, HHS Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson and foster care alumna Christina Meredith who is heading up efforts to move FYI forward in Texas.