Sunday, June 26, 2022

Friday, May 20, 2022

Press release from CDF-Ohio about Ohio's first-ever Youth Ombudsman

Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio applauds Governor DeWine’s appointment of Jenny Stotts as its first Youth Ombudsman, a role dedicated to ensuring that the concerns of youth in foster care are listened to and resolved

COLUMBUS — Today’s announcement of Ohio’s first Youth Ombudsman by Governor DeWine is good news for youth in foster care across the state of Ohio.

Earlier this year, Governor DeWine signed H.B. 4, which established the role of the Youth Ombudsman, who is charged with investigating complaints made by youth in foster care and advocating for their best interest. The OHIO YAB (Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board), the statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF-Ohio), and ACTION Ohio (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio), were partners in the Youth Ombudsman advocacy campaign and are especially thankful for today’s announcement as the culmination of work by both groups and the fulfillment of a commitment by Governor DeWine, a longtime advocate for children in foster care.

“Stotts is a leader who demonstrates a sense of urgency when a young person’s concerns have not been addressed by those entrusted with their care. This role is critical, especially in instances where youth find themselves in an unsafe placement. We urge her to prioritize protecting youth from retaliation,” said Kim Eckhart of CDF-Ohio.

H.B. 4 requires that the OHIO YAB have input into the selection of the Youth Ombudsman. The OHIO YAB submitted this input during the selection process and welcomes the appointment of Stotts, who embodies their recommendations. They recommended that the leader be proactive in informing youth about the Foster Youth Bill of Rights and how this office can help to enforce those rights. At a minimum, they will have experience in advocating for youth who have experienced foster care, such as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Also, they should have experience in investigations and understand the rules and laws of the child welfare system in Ohio, as well as the different processes among counties. The key recommendation is that youth can trust this person and recommend the office to their peers who are experiencing a situation of abuse or rights violations.

“Stotts served as a county CASA director and is someone who understands trauma and how it affects behavior. She is an adoptee who grew up with foster siblings. She has made it possible for foster youth to share their voice and insights on numerous occasions, and we trust and know that she will welcome their ongoing insights in the future,” said Lisa Dickson, co-facilitator of the OHIO YAB.

“Stotts moves with intentionality and consideration that will greatly benefit the youth this office will serve. We are excited to hear of her announcement and have faith she will bring that to the role,” said Deanna Jones, MPA, BSSW, LSW, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio Consultant and former foster youth and caseworker.

The OHIO YAB and CDF-Ohio are hopeful that the Youth Ombudsman will serve to enforce the Foster Youth Bill of Rights and play a key role in educating youth about their rights. They urge the Youth Ombudsman to identify and advocate for system-level reforms to protect youth. They see this role as a key part of holding the system accountable and making the system more responsive to youth needs from the youth’s perspective.

Press Release from the Governor's Office regarding Ohio's first ever Youth Ombudsman

Governor Appoints Two Ombudsmen to Lead New Office

May 19, 2022

(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Governor Mike DeWine today announced the selection of two individuals to lead the Youth and Family Ombudsmen Office.  Jenny R. Stotts will serve as the first-ever Youth Ombudsman, while Jennifer A. Sheriff will serve as the first-ever Family Ombudsman. The office, a recommendation included in the Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council’s Final Report, will be housed in the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and is set to open May 31, 2022.

“Members of the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council heard over and over again from foster youth, former foster youth, and families that  separate, independent ombudsmen were needed to listen, investigate, and find solutions when there are concerns,” Governor DeWine said. “I am proud that we are enacting this recommendation, and I am confident that this new office, combined with other council recommendations, will help Ohio better serve kids and their families.”

On February 28, 2022, Governor Mike DeWine signed Amended House Bill 4 into law, creating the Youth and Family Ombudsmen Office. The office, which consists of both a Youth Ombudsman and a Family Ombudsman, will ensure the independent and impartial review of youth, family, and community complaints and concerns, while attempting to resolve the issues.

Prior to accepting the Youth Ombudsman position, Stotts served as the Executive Director of the Athens County Court Appointed Special Advocates/Guardian Ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Program and the Regional Coordinator of CASA in Southeast Ohio. Her professional experiences include direct practice in child protective services as a caseworker and forensic interviewer. Stotts also served in workforce preparation as part of the University Partnership Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Program (UPP). Stotts is a licensed social worker.

Family Ombudsman Sheriff most recently served as the Lucas County Child Protection Ombudsman. After graduating from law school in 2008, she spent the next eight years prosecuting criminal cases with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Beginning in 2016, she managed a challenging child abuse and neglect caseload as an Assistant Attorney General representing the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

“Having been a foster parent, I know the value in an office dedicated to helping both youth and families,” said ODJFS Director Matt Damschroder. “The Youth and Family Ombudsmen Office, and our recently published bills of rights for foster youth and resource caregivers, are examples of how we can empower families and make the system easier to navigate.”

Damschroder also announced that in addition to the appointment of the Ombudsmen, Rachel Selby has been selected to serve as State Liaison for the office. In her role, she will serve as a liaison between the office and its stakeholders to grow awareness about its services. Selby has a Masters of Humanities and most recently served as Philanthropy Officer for Dayton Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Governor DeWine created the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council in late 2019 to hear directly from those who have experienced the children’s services system first-hand and make recommendations to help children’s services better meet the needs of the families they serve. Following 10 field hearings, the council issued their final report that included 37 recommendations. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has fully implemented or has made significant progress in implementing 36 of the recommendations to ensure lasting change for Ohio’s children and families.

Virtual meeting with Director Hauck, thanks to Disability Rights Ohio

The OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio are seeking to make child welfare more disability competent and vice-versa. We want foster care youth and adults with a foster care history to know who to contact, what the resources are, and how to navigate them.

Thanks to support from Disability Rights Ohio, we were able to participate in a virtual meeting with Director Hauck and her staff on Wednesday, May 16, 2022.

During the call, we mentioned that we would love to invite Director Hauck’s statewide leadership when it comes to establishing additional conduits for these two systems to coordinate with one another such as:

  • Establishing a statewide team to focus on coordination of care for foster youth with disabilities 
  • Developing ongoing cross-trainings that  include disability service providers and child welfare staff.

It’s important to note that: 

  • Our “ask” is specific to foster care youth (not the broad term: “multi-systems” youth) 
  • Because our population has specific needs, and current/former foster youth are eligible for specific resources. 
  • We want to ensure that current and former foster youth, and their service providers, are aware of those resources, especially since many of them are time-limited.

Regina, Juliana and Laquita shared powerfully about: 

  • The disconnect between systems, and the need to ensure better coordination between developmental disability systems and foster care systems. 
    • The need for developmental disability service providers and agencies to have a better understanding of trauma and the unique needs of foster youth.
    • Stable housing, and holding providers accountable for youth in care when involving a 30-day notice, and youth having to find somewhere to go.
    • It is incredibly traumatizing to come from the foster care system, which bounces you around, and then experience housing stability afterwards.Not being able to access certain services because of different funding. 

  • Challenges faced when it comes to:
    • Delay in being diagnosed (i.e. with dyslexia) as a teen in foster care. Better communication between systems could make more timely identification possible.
    • Being determined to be eligible for services within the developmental disabilities system including when childhood documentation is difficult to locate or no longer exists (i.e. records only having a 10 year retention period).
    • Barriers in being able to access services within the developmental disabilities system

  • How overwhelming it is as a former foster youth with no family support to:
    • Face these issues personally
    • Seek to provide care for a sibling, with no additional family support to rely upon

One commitment that ACTION Ohio can make is that our website includes pathfinders for various resources, and we would love to work with Disability Rights Ohio and members of Director Hauck's team to create one or more pathfinders to assist in navigation. 

It was wonderful to learn about the dedication that Director Hauck's team has to providing technical assistance as needed, and we would love to learn more, create infographics in order to be of support, and also have a contact person on her team to reach out to as needed for technical assistance and questions. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Youth Presentation for the Ohio Citizen Review Panel

Kelsie, Raven and Miatta did a wonderful job!!

Comments from participants including the following:
  • Thankful to be able to hear from YAB. Is there a process for a youth to contest the accuracy of data on a form
  • The lack of context on the form and deficits-based framing is SO problematic. If any of us had a list of all of our worst/hardest moments following us around; it would cause so many challenges. Thank you so much for bringing this information forward.
  • I am thinking of training we did in DV on Trauma-informed documentation. Likewise, when it comes to Domestic Violence, we understand and are careful to document when a person uses "resistive violence." Finally, I think additional to a trauma-informed lens, and context lens, these need to be completed using a child/youth dignity lens.
  • I appreciate the “braces” example because working with foster youth, so much of what is written is often out of date but appears current. Some of the best foster parents, I haver discovered, are ones that don’t completely believe what’s written and I’m sure our presenters' examples plays a part in foster parents who prefer to see to believe.
  • I think it’s within ODJFS’ power to make major changes to this document - doing so could change lives.
  • The overcoming of adversity needs to be documented as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Youth Recommendations for Post-Reunification Support

During the April statewide OHIO YAB meeting, youth participated in a breakout session to share their experiences regarding reunification.

1.) What went well prior to reunification: "Receiving life skills classes while in foster care, being able to complete high school and preparing to go to college."

2.) What didn’t go well when preparing for reunification: "Being sent back to the same situation. The problems didn’t change. No therapy within the family. I didn’t have enough resources. Lack of engagement with all of the parents."

3.) What would have been helpful: "Getting access to more resources and skills. Having an attorney for the child. Having supports; I didn’t have any when I was reunified with my biological family and foster care was over.”

4.) Needs once reunified: What supports did you get? "Family but family was limited. I was still eligible for the therapeutic arts program. I received supports in getting a job."

5.) Needs once reunified: What supports didn’t you get? "No family support. Family support needs to include therapy and developing a skillset to do better. No help with job, child care or independent living post-reunification."

6.) What is needed post-reunification? Youth recommended the following:

  • Caseworker check-ups post-reunification
  • Follow ups at the 3,6, and 12 month marks
  • Feelings of freedom/independence during foster care
  • More family participation in therapy prior to reunification
  • Stability when it comes to the biological home situation
  • Family goal setting
  • Goal setting when it comes to what will benefit the youth

7.) Additional notes from youth discussion:

  • Lack of support and resources after being returned to their biological home
  • Fear of returning to bio home based on past experience
  • Afraid of change, nervous
  • Not eager to return to a situation of chaos, appreciate structure that their foster placement provided
  • Fears about lack of support during journey into young adulthood
  • No therapy for family
  • Request from youth: "Don’t just close the case."
  • Discussion of the importance of goal setting and life skills
  • Desire for the system to do more to: "Prepare youth for reunification."
  • Have an advocate for the child or teen
  • After care supports
  • Limited bio family resources
  • Extracurricular activities and child care
  • Lack of stability (constant moves)
  • Not just sweep family issues under the rug

Alexys Madero presents for CASA Day in Athens County

Alexys Madero was invited by Athens County CASA Director Jenny Stotts to present during the "Let Childhood Bloom" celebration of Athens County CASA. For 29 years, Athens CASA has partnered with trained community volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children and teens who have experienced abuse and neglect.

As a former foster youth, Alexys is a powerful statewide voice to improve outcomes for others. She serves as a youth ambassador for the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB), and is the former President of the Franklin County Youth Advisory Board. 

Due to her accomplishments, Alexys received Jack Donahue Scholarship and was chosen to represent the state of Ohio during a virtual national meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Alexys' presentation experience includes serving as a panelist during a virtual training for Franklin County CASAs and GALs on May 19, 2021. Participant feedback was that this was “one of the most powerful testimonies they had ever heard from teens/young adults.” 

Alexys recently presented during the Inspiring Action Virtual Summit: Supporting Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care on April 6, 2022. This event brought together educators, agency leaders, providers and caregivers from across the state. 

As a result of both of these trainings, participants followed up by connecting youth with the OHIO YAB, advocating for youth to be provided copies of the Foster Youth Rights Handbook, and learning more about the Every Student Succeeds Act.