Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Arlene Jones Testimony on HB 86 ~ Foster Youth Notification Provisions


Sub. HB 86: Criminal Sentencing and Juvenile Justice Reform
Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions
Representatives Lou Blessing and Tracy Heard, Sponsors

Good evening Chairman Grendell, Vice-Chairman Obhof, Ranking Member Turner and members of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee. I am Arlene Samuel Jones and I am caseworker at a Public Child Serving Agency, a wife, mother, caregiver, productive member of society and a foster care alumnus. Today I stand before you not as representative of my agency, but as a member of society, mother, caregiver and a foster care alumnus. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to hear my testimony.

I first want to express my deepest and sincere gratitude for the recent addition of $2 million in support of foster youth making the transition into adulthood. This is a very scary stage of foster care and your support at this point in a foster youth’s life deserves recognition. Thank you for your investment in the leaders of tomorrow today.

Today I stand before to express my opposition to the provision added to Sub. HB 86 entitled Foster Youth Community Notification Provision. This provision will require that information about youth who have been identified as “special needs” and placed into treatment homes be shared with members of the community. I am opposed to such notification on the grounds that it places these identified youth at further risk for harm, it promotes false assumptions and stigmatizes foster youth beyond the presumed notions that are already prevalent in our society, it is discriminatory and does not protect a youth’s right to confidentiality.

In Ohio, a school can preclude a student from attending their school based on certain information, which can include diagnoses that have been linked with behavioral issues. If we let this provision stay in this bill and provide school officials with the information that this provision is requiring to be released, school officials at certain schools will not accept a student based on this information, thereby placing foster youth at further risk as we all know that education is the key to success in life. If we as a foster youth cannot get this education from an institution that our caregiver believes is best for us, we are doing more harm than good. In addition to this, these identified special needs foster youth will automatically be targeted as the culprits of criminal activity that occurs within the neighborhood, which will also increase vulnerability as they will become scapegoats in the community and could potentially be the target of vigilante justice or some type of retribution. This directly contradicts what public child serving agencies are supposed to do; provide a safe home for youth who are placed in out of home care.

This provision also inadvertently promotes the false assumption that we as foster youth are “bad” kids. Per current statute, community notification is required for sexual offenders as they have committed acts against someone. When we are placed in the custody of a PCSA it is usually not a result of our own actions and should not be treated as if we have done something wrong, which also stigmatizes us. Compounding this false assumption and stigmatization is the inherent discrimination against foster youth. I have a son who would more than likely be identified as “special needs” child, yet there are no provisions stating that I must provide notification of my residence, my son’s name, age and other identifying information to people in our community. Best practices indicate that foster youth should be provided with as much normalcy as possible, and this provision does not promote the normal life that we as foster youth so desperately yearn for.

In fact, if some of the information that will be required to be released were sent out to community members on any other child, namely a child who is not in the care of PCSA, there would be parents and caregivers protesting the release of information that is supposed to be confidential, i.e. facts surrounding diagnosis, delinquency charges and related facts, age and other identifying information.

I have heard on several occasions that too often, Ohio is reactive in its legislative process instead of proactive. I heard this very statement at this Statehouse during a press conference celebrating the passage of the Marcus Fiesel Bill and just yesterday from a colleague of mine. We cannot penalize the foster youth of tomorrow and do so in the name of safety because someone who was in foster care did not fare so well. As a famous musician once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”

In closing, I would like to again express my gratitude for your support of foster youth who are transitioning into adulthood. I respectfully request that the Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions be removed from Sub. HB 86. Thank you so much for listening to my testimony. I would be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have at this time.

Lamar GrahamTestimony on HB 86 ~ Foster Youth Notification Provisions


Sub. HB 86: Criminal Sentencing and Juvenile Justice Reform
Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions
Representatives Lou Blessing and Tracy Heard, Sponsors

Chairman Grendell, Vice-Chairman Obhof, Ranking Member Turner, and members of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee, thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony on HB 86.

Mr. Chairman my name is Lamar Graham and I’m an alumnus of Franklin County Children Services and Montgomery County Children Services. I spent 8 years of my life as ward of the court. First let me say that I am very appreciative for the opportunity to present before you today.

I am here to express concerns regarding a provision that has been added to House Bill 86, that would require notification when a foster child moves into the neighborhood.

I come to you today as a concerned ex-foster child, who knows all too well what it feels like not to have self-esteem. I entered foster care because I was abused and neglected by my mother – the person whom I loved the most.

Now, just imagine, not only being alienated from your mother, but also society. Imagine having the people around you, including your teachers and the local police force, look at you with the preconception that you were going to cause problems. That is too big a burden that no one should carry.

My desire is to give back to my community to allow other foster youth to know that they can overcome any obstacle that may come their way. I only hope now that you meet me half way. For what is worth, today I am a proud college graduate. I currently have an Associate’s Degree as well as a Bachelor’s of Science. My occupation is a teacher and college advisor.

My desire is to give back to my community to allow other foster youth to know that they can overcome any obstacle that may come their way. I only hope now that you are willing to meet me half way.

I hope that you can find compassion in your heart to overturn HB 86 not only for the foster youth who would be ostracized, but also for the community at large. Each one of us are a valuable part of the community and, if you allow HB 86 to pass, then you not only hurt directly the foster youth, but you also hurt yourself indirectly, by not allowing our contributions to society.

I urge you to remove provisions slipped into HB 86 that would require notification when a foster child moves into the neighborhood. Most foster children just want to find a place to call home.

Thank you for your time. I would be happy to answer any questions.


Alex McFarland Testimony on HB 86 ~ Foster Youth Notification Provisions


Sub. HB 86: Criminal Sentencing and Juvenile Justice Reform
Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions
Representatives Lou Blessing and Tracy Heard, Sponsors

Chairman Grendell, Vice-Chairman Obhof, Ranking Member Turner, and members of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee, thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony on HB 86.

My name is Alex McFarland I am a former foster child and current youth advocate. I represent the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, for which I served as President for two years.

I am here to express concerns and opposition to Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions that have been added to House Bill 86. Notices would be sent to school superintendents, the County sheriff and the Chief of Police, with the child’s name, age and address - as if the youth were an adult sexual offender or a hardened criminal.

My argument will focus on discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping. The stigma of being in foster care is hard enough for young people to overcome. I once had told a friend that I was in the system; her response was,” What did you do wrong?” This idea that we the kids have done something wrong is one of the main reasons it took me a while to tell anyone about my past. Not only that but how do you explain to someone that your family doesn’t love you?

As a child I was thrown around, and told daily that I was worthless. This had a negative impact on my self esteem. I had low expectations of myself, because in my eyes, I was worthless.

Today, I am a college student, entering into my junior year at the Miami University Oxford. I am a manager at a pet store; a job that I have held for the past three years. I have served in leadership roles on a local and statewide level to advocate for current and former foster youth. The list could go on with the things I have accomplished. I am not worthless, and people value me.

As foster youth, we cannot change our parents or how we were raised - we can only change our future. This provision denies us once again the ability to live a normal life, something we want more than anything, to just feel okay.

What is the intent behind this provision? What is it intended to accomplish? By notify the Chief of Police and County Sheriff where foster youth live, this implies that if anything goes wrong in that neighborhood, it is probably a foster care youth. Similarly, contacting the superintendent sends the message that, “This child will not perform well at your school. This child will cause problems at your school.”

This provision is a form of prejudice that denies foster care youth the ability to live a normal life, something we want more than anything else, to just feel okay. We are not criminals; we are survivors in a world arranged for us to fail. This provision will only create one more barrier for us in our efforts to succeed. This provision is bad policy for Ohio and is bad policy for change.

Therefore I urge the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee to remove the provision form HB 86 that will require notification when a foster youth moves into a neighborhood. Thank you for your time, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Coalition of Opposition to HB 86 Foster Child Community Notification Provisions


To: Chairman Tim Grendell, Senate Judiciary Committee - Criminal Justice
Senator Larry Obhof, Vice Chair Senator Nina Turner, Ranking Minority Member
Senator Frank LaRose Senator Eric Kearney
Senator Peggy Lehner Senator Joe Schiavoni
Senator Scott Oelslager
Senator Mark Wagoner

RE: Opposition to HB 86 Foster Child Community Notification Provisions

We strongly urge members of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee and all members of the Senate to remove provisions slipped into HB 86 that mix Sex Offender Registration and Notification policy with the placement of abused and neglected children into treatment and therapeutic foster homes. The amendment language, added into the substitute bill can be found in Sections 2151.55 THROUGH 2151.555.

Currently, about half of all foster children are placed in some level of therapeutic care due to their history of being abused or neglected. The notification requirements added to HB 86 target many children who pose no community safety threat and will have the unintended effect of stigmatizing and further traumatizing children for being foster children and needing specific treatment to address multiple and sometimes severe psychiatric, emotional and behavioral management issues.

The notification provisions cross the line and will not increase community safety, but rather add to the vulnerability of the children our state is obligated to protect from additional trauma and abuse. We are talking about children who, at no fault of their own, have been removed from their homes and traumatized by abuse and neglect.

We oppose this amendment as it would violate privacy and penalize children and families, with no improvement of public safety. These community notification requirements perpetuate the myth that people with mental illnesses or emotional disorders are violent. These provisions promote the criminalization of individuals with mental illness. Furthermore, these notification provisions contribute to the challenge of finding, preparing and supporting the foster homes that are desperately needed to care for Ohio’s abused and neglected children.

As a coalition, we strongly request you delete this language.

Sincerely,

OHIO YAB (Overcoming Hurdles In Ohio Youth Advisory Board), Cieria Rodriguez-Toney, President
Adopt America Network (based in Lucas County), Wendy Sproerl, President
Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, Renuka Mayadev, Director
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Rita L. Soronen, President and CEO
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, Terry Russell, Executive Director
National Center for Adoption and Law Policy, Capital University Law School, Denise St. Claire, Director
Ohio Adoption Planning Group (OAPG), Kathy Franz of NOAS, Chair
Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies, Penny Wyman, Executive Director
Ohio CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Jackie Wilson, Executive Director
Ohio Foster Care Association (OFCA), Betsy Johnson, Board President
Ohio Grandparent Kinship Coalition, Dionne Simmons, Wright State University & Jamie Richardson, Lucas Co
Area Agency on Aging, OGKC Co-Presidents
Ohio Independent Living Association (OHILA), Darlene Skinner of Daybreak, President
Public Children Services Association of Ohio, Crystal Ward Allen, Executive Director
The Ohio Council, Hubert Wirtz, CEO
Voices for Ohio’s Children, Amy Swanson, Executive Director
Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau, Debbie Cowan, Director
Catholic Charities / Parmadale, Maureen E. Dee, Director
Daybreak, Linda Kramer, CEO
Maryhaven, Paul H. Coleman, President and CEO
Northeast Ohio Adoption Services (NOAS), Cindy Deal, Executive Director
Pathway Caring for Children, Eric Belden, Executive Director
The Village Network, Jim Miller, Executive Director

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ohio YAB Opposition to Provision Added to House Bill



Monday, June 20, 2011


To the Ohio Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee,

We are writing to express concerns regarding Foster Youth Community Notification Provisions that have been added to House Bill 86.

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) is a statewide organization of young people (ages 14-24) who have experienced foster care. We exist to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that effect all youth who have or will experience out of home care. Our members and our officers represent every region in Ohio.

We strongly oppose this provision, which requires community notification when an exceptional needs foster youth moves into the neighborhood. Notifications would be sent to school superintendents, the County sheriff and the Chief of Police – as if the youth were an adult sexual offender or a hardened criminal.

One of the primary concerns of Ohio foster youth is normalcy. We believe that this provision is stigmatizing and discriminatory. Community notices would include the child’s name, age and address. It would state that the home is a treatment foster home.

Ohio foster care youth have value and potential. We cannot help where we came from, but we can help where we are going. This provision will violate our privacy and label us as a risk to the community.

Many of the strongest youth voices in Ohio would once have been considered in the “exceptional needs” category. Where are we today? Serving our country through military service. Enrolled in the police academy. Studying for a future law degree. Serving as teachers and librarians. Recently licensed as a social worker.

As one of our members stated, “I did not choose to be born to an addicted parent. I did not choose to be abused. I did not choose to be removed from my home. But I can and I will choose to grow up to be a productive citizen.”

If this provision is not removed, Ohio foster youth will be stigmatized, their potential will be overshadowed by childhood abuse or neglect, and their right to confidentiality will be ignored. Their past will dictate their futures because people will judge them without the facts and without getting to know the youth first. There will be no benefit to the community, in spite of the harm done to young people.

We urge you to remove provisions slipped into HB 86 that would require notification when a foster child moves into the neighborhood.

Sincerely,


Cieria Rodriguez-Toney, President, Lorain County
Rich Haag, Vice-President, Stark County
Traci Justice, Treasurer, Athens County
Chelsie Akers, Secretary, Miami County
Dauntea Sledge, Media Spokesperson, Franklin County
Roneishia Finney, Parliamentarian, Montgomery County

Adrian McLemore in Associated Press article


This Father's Day, an article about our very own Adrian McLemore, first President and founding member of the "Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio" statewide youth advisory board, and current Media Spokesperson of Foster Care Alumni of America's Ohio chapter, is being shared throughout the country.

Authored by Associated Press journalist Helen O'Neill, this article focuses on Adrian's role as uncle/kinship caregiver for his niece and nephew.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Radio interview with ODJFS Director Michael Colbert and Adrian McLemore


Key quotes:
  • ODJFS Director Colbert points out that today's foster teens are Ohio's future citizens and leaders, and that by supporting them now, they won't need other types of support in the future.
"What you don't want is young people to leave our system and come back, right back in another system. You want them to leave our system and go on to become productive citizens in life."

  • The director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Michael Colbert, has met with many of Ohio's foster youth, and says he is impressed with their resilience. He adds that it's crucial to prioritize support for their future success.
"These are very good young people. They've had some tough times and, by giving them a small bridge to help them better themselves in life, we are making Ohio as a whole better, and this goes a long way for such a little investment."

Appreciation of ODJFS Director Michael Colbert


ODJFS Director Michael Colbert,

The Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America would like to thank ODJFS for advocating for the $2 million/year designation of TANF funds in HB 153 to support the restoration of the foster care Independent Living Initiative. We offer our thanks on behalf of the Ohio Youth Advisory Board as well.

Please let us know if there is any work that we can do to support your efforts. We are more than willing to advocate for funding.

Ohio foster care youth and alumni were deeply involved in advocating for this allocation in 2009:
Testimony by Ohio foster care youth was quoted in the 2009 Hannah Reports:
Please keep us posted and let us know if there is anything we can do to support your work,

Once again, thank you – the words themselves seem insufficient in comparison with our gratitude.

Sincerely,


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair
Foster Care Alumni of America Ohio chapter
www.fcaa-oh.org