Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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.

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