Monday, August 20, 2012

Connecting the Dots From Foster Care to A Successful Adulthood

An Article by Arthur Vincent Miller III:

What happens when a child has no place to call home?   This is a question that I have asked myself several times, while being in and out of foster care. My name is Arthur V. Miller, named after my uncle. I was born into a loving family despite the absence of my dad on April 19th, 1990 but like most families there were problems. In the beginning of the year of 1998 my uncle whom I was close to was shot and killed and I had to experience my first loss with no one to help me handle it. Due to my behavior change in school, Montgomery County Children Services (MCCS) had gotten involved and on February 13th, 1998 it was decided that I would be a part of the foster care system. Out of the five children my mother had I was the first to be placed in care.

Where are the lines to connect the dots for young people in and from foster care?  Can I find connection with my biological family – or through people who can relate to me and what I have experienced in the foster care system?  My foster care experience was originally expected to only last one month but, thanks to the continuing investigation of MCCS on my family, they found it best to keep me in care.  I initially had a hard time coping in several foster homes, and I did not find the correct environment that I could call home until I was 16 years old. 

I came to the home of a loving married couple I considered to be angels named Alma & Lamont Turner. They lived in Dayton, Ohio and had been foster parents for over 20 years and currently had 2 other foster children living with them. A loving home, people I could call family, a place where I did not feel alone and video games to match - what more could a kid ask for… I am now 22 years old and still in contact with The Turners and their family. Even today their family and they themselves treat me as a relative, blood or not. After meeting them I never felt alone again!

These are the connections I want for my brothers and sisters in and from foster care. And this is why I advocate for more opportunities like the Connecting the Dots conference, that focus on uniting counties and foster care youth from all over Ohio.

The 2012 Connecting the Dots Conference for Foster CareTeens and Young Adults took place on Friday, August 3rd in Columbus, Ohio. This conference was made possible by the favorable response of ODJFS Director Michael Colbert to the Top Five Asks expressed by the Ohio Youth Advisory Board.  Ohio YAB Facilitators played a key role in conference-planning; Lisa Dickson served as Lead Facilitator, with the ever-amazing Doris Edelmann doing lots of work behind the scenes.

The primary purpose of the Connecting the Dots Conference was to connect Ohio foster care teens/young adults with Education, Employment, Health, Housing, Permanency and Youth Voice in Court. Conference. Registration was free, due to support from ODJFS, PCSAO, and the Ohio Youth Advisory Board. Archie Griffin's Keynote was made possible due to Director Colbert and the ODJFS Office of Families and Children.  ODMH and the ENGAGE initiative funded the entire cost of audiovisual materials for this event.

The 200 youth who attended the Connecting the Dots Conference not only got the chance to meet, explore, and befriend other young people of similar experiences, but also attend workshops to prepare them for the adult life that lies ahead… The event as a whole was focused on building the knowledge and resources of youth in and out of foster care, while empowering them to want to do and be better in society.

The 200 youth who attended the conference had the opportunity to browse through over a thousand clothing donations, as part of the Suits for Success initiative. To prepare for the Suits for Success area, Clothing Drives had been held at Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the ODJFS Office for Workforce Development, Office of Unemployment Compensation, and Office of Families and Children. Many young people left the conference with full-piece suits and other professional attire that they could use in seeking future employment.

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. Here are some quotes from youth evaluations: 
  • 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 really liked the connecting the dots conference because I know there is other people out there like me
  • I enjoyed myself and I’m glad that I came. A lot of teens should come.
  • I think every course I did was great and I think they should be repeated next time
  •  I received the right help
  • I feel more confident about my future
  • I would like to come to these each year
  • 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

The event ended with the voices of current and former foster youth. Youth participants on the Youth Panel and during the Youth Speak-Out shared encouragement with their brothers and sisters of the foster care system. Things like this encouraged several people to say: “I can’t wait to see you next year” to other youth – indicating that they felt at home and that, in this case, they were not alone.

Foster care youth are often judged based on statistics or hasty generalizations – but the truth is, we’re pretty cool. Similar to teens or young adults who have not been through the system, we are planning for our future and looking for a place to call home.

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