Update from John Kelly, of the Chronicle of Social Change, July 25, 2019.
Earlier this year, we reported on the case made by current and former foster youths to use existing authority at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to connect youth aging out of care with housing supports.
The Chronicle of Social Change has learned that, after a thorough review of the policy by HUD’s general counsel, the agency is set this week to approve this and notify thousands of public housing authorities.
HUD has yet to publicly comment on these developments. But an event is being planned for this Friday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which Secretary Ben Carson will announce the Foster Youth to Independence initiative.
“I truly believe that in order to improve outcomes for our youth, our people who make the decisions have to be willing and able to listen to the population they are serving,” said Jamole Callahan, one of the former foster youths who helped campaign for the policy. “This solution … was a simple fix. This is another step towards ending youth homelessness."
The plan was pitched to HUD by Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities (FSHO) Coalition, whose members met in early March with HUD Secretary Ben Carson to lay out a plan for a $20 million voucher program. Under that plan, HUD would use an existing pot of money – a federal rental assistance account – to pay for the vouchers.
“We see kids attempt post-secondary and fail just because they don’t have housing,” said Callahan, who helps lead Foster Action Ohio, in an April interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “They have to work to maintain an apartment, then school becomes the background. And it becomes all about survival.”
As per this plan which was crafted by Ohio foster care youth and alumni: A child welfare agency would file paperwork with HUD for what’s called a Family Unification Voucher in the months before a youth aged out. That youth would be tied into HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Support program as well, which means the voucher could last up to five years.
After a youth’s voucher is up, it is then “recycled” back to HUD to be used for another youth.
HUD, after reviewing the argument, agreed it is allowable under existing authority and is moving forward on it. The agency did not cap the voucher availability either, which means the total spending on foster youths could exceed $20 million.
The need for housing supports for foster youth is critical. Anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 youth age out of care each year in America, and 28 percent experience homelessness by age 21, according to the National Youth in Transition Database. In some states, it’s above 40 percent.
In a recent study based on interviews with 215 young adults who experienced unaccompanied homelessness as youths, foster care was identified as a major factor. Ninety-four out of the 215 interviewees had a history in foster care; of that group of 94, nearly half said entrance into foster care was the “beginning of their housing instability.”
Advocates for the plan are still pursuing federal legislation to codify it into law. The FSHO Act would guarantee a housing voucher starting from emancipation through age 25 for any youth aging out of foster care who could demonstrate the need for a subsidy. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
Samantha Dillon, Kyajah Rodriguez and Jonathan Thomas served on the Plenary Youth Panel for the 2019 Ohio Family Care Association (OFCA) Conference.
Insights they shared included the following...
The need for teachers to be trauma-informed and foster-informed
Untapped opportunities for foster youth attending the same high school to be connected with one another for study groups and peer support.
The risk of lost credits.
The vital importance of connecting with a supportive teacher.
Reminder about Ohio Reach.
We need more foster parents for teens; especially with the opioid epidemic going on. Please give teenagers a chance. We need parental figures in our lives who will help us heal from previous trauma and demonstrate that we are worthy of love.
Don't judge a kid by their case file; start with trust until trust is take away.
Be aware of the importance of cultural competency, and also keep an eye on inter-personal dynamics within a home (i.e. foster youth feeling less worthy than bio children)
Recognize the importance of your role. You are a powerful advocate and a vital part of the decision-making team for the child or teen in your home. Make sure the young person is included in that team, too.
Take time for self-care. Don't take things personally -- recognize that youth behavior often comes from trauma.
Please don't view me as a"case," but rather a child or teen who needs emotional nurturing. I'm not an adult "client;" please take time to connect me with coaching, guidance, and mentorship.
When asking questions about my past, please remember that this can trigger emotions (including pain and guilt) and feel like an interrogation.
Acknowledge the power dynamic -- you have so much power over my life. Please do your part to listen to me, and be patient if I change my mind.
Learn about de-escalation, and please don't take quips or jokes that kids might take personally. Don't assume their behavior comes from a place of disrespect.
Caseworkers do so much, and can experience "compassion fatigue." Please take time to refresh and renew, because today's young people need you at your best.
Respite, Kinship, and Host Homes:
Respite care placements can be scary and unfamiliar, with complicated relationship dynamics going on. Whether a child or teen is staying with you for a week, a day, or even just a couple of hours, view your role as writing in permanent marker on that young person's heart about their strengths, resiliency and worth.
Kinship care providers need the same level of training and support as foster parents.
Ohio needs more people who are willing to step up and open their homes to be "host homes" for young people ages 18-21 who are in the Bridges program. Not every young person is ready to have their own apartment; some of us have moved around so much that we need more time in a stable family situation. The role of the host home provider is to guide young adults, allow them normalcy, give them latitude to make some mistakes and learn from them, and prepare them for living on their own by age 22.
We were honored to meet with Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran on Friday, April 19, 2019.
Samantha Dillon, Vice President of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board
Sonja Nelson and Alex Romstedt of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
Katana Waters and Cloe Cooper of the CSCC Scholar Network
ACTION Ohio members: Jessica Camargo and Lisa Dickson
Alumni advocate Laquita Howell and her son Ralph
Our discussion focused on:
Barriers to Medicaid access for former foster youth, and proposed solutions to address this perennial problem
The need for a support staff person for Scholar House III
We also suggested that the state of Ohio could create a review panel of medical professionals, including trauma-informed child psychiatrists, to address questions and concerns regarding foster care children and teens and whether the treatment and medications they are prescribed are clinically appropriate.
On Tuesday, January 29, 2019, Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies held an introductory meeting with LeeAnne Cornyn, Director of Children’s Initiatives for the Office of Governor Mike DeWine and Chelsea Cordonnier of ODJFS.
Participants included representatives from the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, ACTION Ohio, Adoption Network Cleveland, and the Columbus State Scholar Network.
The agenda focused on:
Introductions and well-deserved congratulations to LeeAnne Cornyn
Appreciation for Governor Mike DeWine and the many ways that he has served as a champion for Ohio foster youth in his former role as Ohio Attorney General
Creating a statewide Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office
Reforming Ohio child welfare funding
Establishing an ongoing communications mechanism to stay in touch and keep working together
Additional break-out sessions on Bridges, Mind Matters, and Ohio CASA's upcoming new webpage for foster youth.
Mind Matters was a decision-making guide that was created back in 2015. Ohio foster youth have expressed interest in renaming, redesigning and relaunching a tool to inform and empower youth regarding both medication and emotional health.