Friday, April 9, 2021

Friday filled with fabulous opportunities

Ohio foster care youth and alumni had a beautiful whirlwind of a Friday, with several amazing opportunities in one day.

1.) We began with a morning meeting with Representative Russo regarding the establishment of a Youth Ombudsman’s Office. Participants included OHIO YAB President Roman Sandhu, Jermaine Ferguson, Juliana Barton, Jeremy Collier, Antonio Sledge, Lisa Dickson, Doris Edelman, and Kim Eckhart. Jermaine Ferguson’s legislative connections and prior networking with the Children’s Caucus brought great value to today’s legislative meeting.

2.) Next, we facilitated a training for the Ohio Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Participants included financial aid administrators from all over the state. The training was facilitated by Tina Jacob of Ohio Reach, Lisa Dickson of ACTION Ohio, and Ohio Reach Peer Mentors Kyajah Rodriguez, Cloe Cooper, Amadea Jennings and Lamar Graham. 

It felt like coming full circle that Director of Financial Aid John Brown at Capital University is dedicated helping to champion the needs of foster youth on campus, since Capital University was also the site of our 2009-2012 Thanksgiving Together celebrations. As today’s training came to an end, Director Brown stressed that, “We don’t want this to be a one and done thing - this is an ongoing partnership.”  

3.) Afterwards, we had a call with Kerstin Sjoberg, the Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio, and Ohio Long-Term Care Ombudsman Beverly Laubert, which was made possible thanks to Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. Excellent insights were shared. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Virtual meeting with Deputy Director Jeff Van Deusen today

Today's virtual meeting with Deputy Director Jeff Van Deusen of the ODJFS Office for Families and Children went great...

Participants included: Roman Sandhu, Jonathon Thomas, Raven Grice, Makayla Lang, and Alexys Madero of the OHIO YAB, and foster care alumni Amanda Davis, Nikki Chinn, Jaye Turner, Jasmine Hardy and Lisa Dickson.

Two quotes from today's meeting:

  • About the need for an Ombudsman's Office: "In my experience, abusive adults charm themselves out of situations, and if the report is not substantiated, the abuse will increase. This is why establishing this office is imperative." ~ Jonathan Thomas

  • About the need to Make Every Training Hour Count: "The foster parent thinks the caseworker is preparing the young person for adulthood, and the caseworker thinks the foster parent is doing it. The private agency thinks the public children welfare agency is doing this, and vice versa."

Two quotes from the Deputy Director:

  • "If I could, I would be on a call like this every hour of my day. I wish I had cleared my calendar for three hours for today's phone call. Let's schedule more regular calls in the future."

  • "It is crucial not to make decisions about people without people. We need to make sure not only to establish a Foster Youth Ombudsman's Office, but to have it operate to effectively meet the need - and your input is what is needed."

Friday, March 5, 2021

OHIO YAB participates on national webinar

 Here are some of the slides we shared on March 3, 2021:

Friday, February 26, 2021

Raven Grice interview with Ohio News Network

OHIO YAB Ambassador Raven Grice participated in an interview with Mary Kuhlman, which was published on February 24, 2021:

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Foster-care advocacy groups are hoping federal and state leaders move quickly on COVID relief for older foster kids.

The "Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act" is part of the second federal stimulus package signed into law in December. It allows states to extend the age limit for programs to help young people as they transition out of foster care, and increases federal "Chafee" funding, which supports housing, food and other immediate needs.

Lisa Dickson, co-facilitator of the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, said these are huge wins for foster youths, who often enter adulthood without much financial or emotional support.

"And also if, due to COVID, they're struggling and meeting the work and school requirement," she said, "it gives them a little leeway and understands that it's not that easy to stay connected to resources in the middle of an international pandemic."

On Monday, The U.S. Children's Bureau released more than $13 million in Chafee funding to Ohio, and said other awards and supplemental amounts will be announced soon. Dickson said Ohio's local and state leaders need to distribute the funding quickly, since some of the provisions expire in September.

Former foster youth Raven Grice said that while her dorm housing at Cleveland State University is covered by a scholarship, housing stability still is a concern.

"That portion of time - of 'I don't know where I'm going to go' - it's frightening," she said, "and I know that I'm not the only person who has to deal with this. There's thousands of youths across the entire state who have to deal with this because of the pandemic."

The act contains a permanent provision to allow foster youths to start the process of requesting housing assistance before they turn 18. It actually was written with the help of young Ohioans, who traveled to the nation's capital for eight years in a row to work with lawmakers.

Grice also is a member of the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, which is calling for a new national hotline to help foster youths in need of assistance as a result of the pandemic. She said better coordination of information also is needed at the state and local levels.

"If we have resources already listed out, for the youth to be given when they're aging out," she said, "it'd be so much more useful than, 'Oh, you're aged out now. Bye.' That's basically what it seems like."

Roughly one in four young adults leaving foster care experiences homelessness by age 21.

The Role of Independent Living Workers Amidst the Current Pandemic

The OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio are incredibly happy that Chafee funds have been released by the federal government to the states. We care and recognize that it will take time for those funds to get to counties. We also deeply appreciate Deputy Director Van Deusen's leadership in saying that it's okay for counties to use the Chafee funds they currently have on hand to assist former foster youth ages 26 and under, and Laurie Valentine's willingness to help counties navigate the process.

Our brother of the foster care system, Christopher Patterson has written a wonderful article about how Independent Living Workers are lifelines for foster youth and the unsung heroes amidst the current pandemic. It was published in Youth Today. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Roman Sandhu and Jonathan Thomas in the Columbus Dispatch

Help available to youths aging out of foster care amid pandemic
Megan Henry, Columbus Dispatch, February 9, 2020.

Roman Sandhu entered foster care  when he was 15 and was emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. He said the foster care provisions in the relief package passed by Congress in December will help emancipated young people like himself.

After aging out of foster care when he was 18, Jonathon Thomas was homeless for about a half-year, couch-surfing at his friends' homes.

“I had no biological family,” he said. “I just had nothing.”

Thomas eventually reconnected with the foster family that he had lived with in Bowling Green in northwest Ohio for about two years, but he wishes he had more support in making the transition to living on his own.

More:Dave Thomas Foundation aims to match every foster child with a forever family

“When you find yourself making mistakes, as all young people do, and then there’s nothing for you … you’ll give up on yourself,” said the now-25-year-old. “You give up on life. You think nobody cares.”

Helping foster youth transition into independent living

Two measures intended to help foster care youth — the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act and Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act — were included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 signed by then-President Donald Trump in late December.

The $2.3 trillion spending bill combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year.

The measures were passed at a time when more than half of Americans under 30 have moved back home with their parents, something many of these young adults who aged out of the foster care system can't do.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act allows foster care youth to sign up for public housing assistance before they turn 18. 

Jonathon Thomas entered foster care in northwest Ohio in 2010 when he was 14. He said he wishes there was more guidance and assistance  to help him with the transition to adulthood when he was aging out of foster care.

The hope is it will allow for more places to open like the Marsh Brook Place, a 40-unit apartment complex on the Southeast Side for young people ages 18 to 24 who have faced homelessness or other serious barriers to stability, said Rep. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican and co-sponsor of the bipartisan act. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, also sponsored the bill.

All or most of the rent for each tenant at Marsh Brook Place, depending on whether they have any income, is covered through federal subsidies.

About 25% of former foster youths experience homelessness within four years of being emancipated from the foster care system, according to the National Foster Youth Initiative, headquartered in Los Angeles.

Almost 1,000 young people age out of foster care each year in Ohio, according to the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio. In Franklin County, 178 youths emancipated out of foster care in 2020, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The act would allow foster kids who age out of the system to receive a public housing voucher for up to five years, allowing them to get on their feet and find a job or go to college as they make a transition to an independent adult life.

“I believe with these resources that each and every foster youth will be able to navigate themselves successfully throughout adulthood,” Thomas said.

What would Supporting Foster Youth and Families do?

Supporting Foster Youth and Families would also help older foster youth struggling during the pandemic. Under the provision:

  • States cannot require someone to leave foster care due to turning 18 or 21.

  • States must notify young people about the moratorium on aging out of foster care and how to reconnect with support services. 

  • States can provide extended foster care — such as Bridges, Ohio’s extended foster care program, using IV-E funds until they turn 22. Bridges provides some guidance and support for 18- to 20-year-olds who are emancipated from foster care and are in school, working or participating in an employment program.

  • A temporary increase in federal Chafee funding to support current and former foster youth in their transition to adulthood. Former foster youth are eligible for Chafee until they turn 27 and funds can be used for immediate needs, including housing, food support, and cash assistance.

“The aging out process is really a tough period for foster children,” said Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “You’re too young in some instances to be considered a certain way and yet if you age out, you no longer have the protection of government entities.”

The provisions, however, are set to expire at the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

"As long as COVID-19 exists and it’s having the impact of everything that it is impacted, we want to keep these children in the safety zone in the safety net," Davis said.

Roman Sandhu is now able to stay with Ohio's Bridges Programs until he is 22.

“Having a relief package like that was a big boost to my morale," said the 20-year-old. “It’s very comforting and it’s a lot of relief and stress off my shoulders."

Sandhu entered the foster care system when he was 15and emancipated after he graduated from Findlay High School in northwest Ohio in 2019. 

“It was a pretty major adjustment,” he said.

Sandhu went from living in a group home with other foster youths to living on his own and having to fend for himself. When COVID-19 hit, he temporarily lost his factory job so he started dipping into his savings to make ends meet, he said.

The Bridges program has helped him save money since then and he is now attending the University of Findlay. He wants to go into law enforcement and dreams of one day becoming a deputy sheriff.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Scholar House 3

Ohio foster care youth and alumni have been working with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Columbus State Community College since 2017 to propose and design Scholar House 3 for former foster youth pursuing higher education.

We were honored and privileged to have a voice in deciding what services would be needed, and to vote on specific elements related to building design. Here is a link to additional photos of Scholar House 3.

Columbus Scholar House 3 serves young people ages 18-24 with a foster care history. Consistent with the Scholar House model, residents of the project are expected to maintain full-time status at an accredited two or four-year College or University.

There are currently open units for residents to apply. Former foster youth ages 18-24 can fill out an interest card here and learn more about the application process here.