Friday, October 19, 2018

2018 October OHIO YAB Meeting

Link to more photos.

Brainstorming topics during the October OHIO YAB Meeting included:
  1. Working to create a Normalcy Training for Group Homes
  2. Mapping out a future Handbook to support County/Regional Youth Advisory Boards
  3. Bridges program: Foster care supports until age 21
  4. Sibling Bill: Youth letter writing campaign to share the importance of sibling connections

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

OHIO YAB Advocacy for Sibling Connections

The OHIO Youth Advisory Board is launching a statewide Youth Letter Writing Campaign to educate legislators about the need to better support Sibling Connections.

Here are two sample letters from:

Step 1: Find out who your representative is at:

Step 2: You can use this template, and personalize it for your letter: (please also email a copy of your letter to us, at

Your Name
Your Address
City, State, Zip

Dear Representative ___________________,

My name is _____________ and I am a current/former foster youth. I am writing to urge your support for House Bill 448, the Fostering Siblings Connections Act. HB 448 was introduced by Representatives Sarah LaTourette and Janine Boyd.

Federal law already requires that states make efforts to sustain these connections, but Ohio law must be strengthened to ensure that this happens.

This bill:

  • Broadens the definition of siblings in a way that reflects what foster youth experience.
  • Provides foster youth with the legal tools necessary to ensure they remain connected.
  • Requires courts and placement agencies to make efforts to place siblings together or permit ongoing interaction.
  • Provides courts with flexibility and oversight to ensure that children’s’ best interests are met when enforcing the law.

I support this bill because: (in your own words)
This bill matters to me because: (in your own words) 

Please support HB 448 to protect the rights of siblings in and from foster care to continue these vital life-long relationships,


[Your Name]

Friday, September 28, 2018

OHIO YAB receives Angels in Adoption Award

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) was honored to be nominated by Senator Rob Portman as his 2018 Angels in Adoption® Honoree.

The Angels in Adoption® Program is the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s signature public awareness program to honor the work of adoption and foster care advocates. This program has existed for 20 years. Over 100 Members of Congress participate, making it the year’s single most significant Congressional event pertaining to child welfare in the United States.

During their time in DC, Ohio foster care youth and alumni partnered with Eshawn Ali Peterson from Onward Hope in Arizona, to advocate for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

Link to more photos.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Press Release: OHIO Youth Advisory Board Receives National Recognition

Ohio’s Statewide Voice of Foster Youth Receives National Recognition

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. Established in 2006, the OHIO YAB exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out-of-home care. OHIO YAB members shared their “lived experience” in foster care, in order to improve outcomes for the next generation.

The OHIO YAB is incredibly honored to have been nominated by Senator Rob Portman as an Angels in Adoption® 2018 Honoree. The Angels in Adoption® Program is the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s signature public awareness program to honor the work of adoption and foster care advocates. This program has existed for 20 years. Over 100 Members of Congress participate, making it the year’s single most significant Congressional event pertaining to child welfare in the United States.

OHIO YAB Treasurer Roman Sandhu will travel to DC in late September to represent the Board and accept a celebratory pin from the United States Senate on the Board's behalf. He will be accompanied by two fellow foster youth advocates Kyajah Rodriguez and Sydney Dykes. The trip includes an Advocacy Fair, a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, a Legislative Seminar led by Congress, a Hill Day facilitated by CCAI, and an Angels in Adoption Reception and Gala.

During their time in DC, the three young leaders will also organize their own series of legislative visits to encourage federal policymakers to provide housing opportunities for former foster youth between ages 18-25 throughout the nation. For the past six years, OHIO YAB members have fundraised locally and traveled to DC on an annual basis, to ensure youth voice in public policy. Ohio foster care youth have made federal recommendations, helped write federal policy, met with HUD headquarters, and worked on a national level to end the Foster Care to Homeless Pipeline.

The voices of Ohio foster care youth have led to statewide extension of foster care supports until age 21, the re-establishment of a local pool of independent living funds, and the overthrowing of a proposed ‘Neighborhood Notification Act’ that would have treated foster youth as if they were criminals. The OHIO YAB continues to frequent the Ohio Statehouse on a regular basis; to advocate for sibling connections, to empower Ohio police as mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, and to share the need for a statewide Foster Care Ombudsman.

To learn more about the OHIO Youth Advisory Board, please visit their website at


Lisa Dickson
Communications Chair
Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now

OHIO YAB Officer Updates

The Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) has been nominated by Senator Rob Portman as a 2018 CCAI Angels in Adoption® Honoree.

OHIO YAB Treasurer Roman Sandhu will travel to DC in late September to represent the Board and accept a celebratory pin from the United States Senate on the Board's behalf.

OHIO YAB Parliamentarian Stevie Hayslip has been nominated to participate in a Listening Session that brings together young people, supportive adults, and federal policymakers on October 28-29, 2018 to better understand how youth make decisions in their daily lives.

This event will be co-facilitated by the federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs, the Office of Population Affairs, and the American Institutes for Research, and will include icebreakers, small and large group discussions, and idea presentations by participants. We haven't heard back yet, but are very hopeful that Stevie will be chosen.

In the meantime, our tireless Vice President, Samantha Dillon, continues to work tirelessly behind the scenes to support statewide initiatives, including sibling visitation and the ongoing development of the Bridges program.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Appreciation for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is a long-time champion of Ohio foster care youth and alumni.

We greatly appreciate him including us in his 2012 Child Safety Summits, and 2013 Two Days in May. He included youth voice in every Child Safety Summit, and empowered youth as Subject Matter Experts during the 2013 Two Days in May conference.

Many thanks also to the Ohio Attorney General's Office for providing grant funding to support Ohio Reach - this initiative has improved higher educational outcomes for foster care youth throughout the state.

We read with interest that the Ohio Attorney General's policy priorities in 2018 include:

1.) Reviewing Ohio's foster care system and increasing funding to create a "standard minimum care"
2.) Appointing a foster care ombudsman to investigate and publish findings on the foster system
3.) Creating a Director of Child Initiatives to coordinate child programs statewide.

During our recent OHIO YAB Officers Retreat, on June 23, 2018, participating youth also proposed the establishment of a Foster Care Ombudsman's Office in the state of Ohio in order to provide independent investigation of concerns expressed by Ohio foster care youth and young adults.

This person’s role would be:

  • To serve as a protective measure to safeguard the physical safety and emotional well-being of youth whose lives are entrusted to the foster care system
  • To be available for foster care children and teens throughout the state to share concerns related to their rights, care and well-being and/or issues with their placement or services received while in foster care
  • To listen to, document, and follow up on their concerns 
  • To ensure that foster youth are being protected from further harm and receiving the services they need
  • To provide a venue so that the voices of foster care youth and teens are heard, without fear of retribution. 

Quote from youth: “Don’t let referral lead to retaliation”

Youth felt that this future Ombudsman definitely needs to be available to young people in group homes and residential placements, as well as foster homes. Oftentimes, youth in group homes or residential aren’t believed, and their concerns are disregarded.

Quote from youth: “The danger of some group homes and residential placements is that things happen behind walls, and other people don’t know what’s really going on.”

In terms of defining ‘What is abuse?’
Youth felt that a good rule of thumb is that: “If a caseworker would open a case against my biological parents for this allegation, then if it happens in a kinship care placement, guardianship, foster home, group home or residential placement, it should also be thoroughly investigated.”

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Pathways conference and OHIO YAB workshop

Event: Fostering Pathways to Success Conference
Date: Monday, August 6, 2018
Location: Columbus Convention Center, 400 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215
Theme of this year’s conference: Reach for the Stars
OHIO YAB Workshop: "Youth Voice Matters: Increase the Positive People in Your Orbit"

This workshop will be comprised of station activities.

1.) Youth will receive shirts. The front of the shirt will say: “I am” And the back of their shirt will say: “I can make a difference.” They will use permanent markers to write down their strengths, such as: “I am… articulate. I am… a leader. I am… resilient” Their friends and other youth can be invited to write things as well. This hands-on leadership activity will strengthen youth self-confidence.

2.) Hands-on activities from the OHIO Youth Advisory Board Toolkit:
a.) Conflicts and Resolutions activity with buzzers (to build diplomacy skills)
b.) Communication exercise with puzzle pieces (to build communication skills)
c.) Networking activity with icebreaker balls (hands-on social networking)
d.) When Helping You is Hurting Me activity with paper boats and marbles (which explains how important it is to keep your boat afloat and not risk sinking by trying to rescue other people. This is a common challenge for many of our young people who “age out” of foster care)

Workshop Outcomes:
1.) Participants will build interpersonal skills and participate in hands-on, interactive social networking experiences
2.) Participants will gain self-confidence, and leave with a tangible example of their personal strengths (literally written on a shirt that they can keep as a momento)
3.) Participants will learn more about youth advisory boards, and how they can help build leadership skills and a sense of belonging

Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 June OHIO YAB Officers Retreat

  • Media Spokesperson Christian Warren, Greene County
  • Parliamentarian Von’Celis Leonard, Montgomery County 
  • Treasurer Roman Sandhu, Allen County 
  • Secretary Evelynn Self, Lucas/Sandusky
  • Justiynn Stoneknight, Hamilton County (Vice President runner-up)
  • D’Marco Shaw, Montgomery County (Media Spokesperson runner-up)
  • Stevie Hayslip, Franklin County(Parliamentarian runner-up)
  • Matthew Williamson, Hamilton County (Parliamentarian runner-up)
  • Sue Eledkawi, Montgomery County (Officer-in-Training)
  • Sydney Dykes, Montgomery County (Guest speaker regarding Three Days on the Hill)
  • Torrie Easter, Montgomery County (Guest speaker regarding Three Days on the Hill)

Link to more photos.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 April OHIO Youth Advisory Board Elections

Congratulations, elected 2018 OHIO YAB Officers:
  • President Elect Jewel Harris, Allen County
  • Vice President Elect Sam Dillon, Athens County
  • Media Spokesperson Elect Christian Warren, Greene County
  • Parliamentarian Elect Von’Celis Leonard, Montgomery County 
  • Treasurer Elect Roman Sandhu, Allen County 
  • Secretary Elect Evelynn Self, Lucas/Sandusky

Our new Officers-in-Training include:
  1. Patricia Mazey, Stark County (President runner-up)
  2. Justiynn Stoneknight, Hamilton County (Vice President runner-up)
  3. D’Marco Shaw, Montgomery County (Media Spokesperson runner-up)
  4. For the Parliamentarian postion, we had three runners-up who tied (Terrianna Rapp of Franklin County, Matthew Williamson of Hamilton County, Stevie Hayslip of Greene County)
  5. Rebekah Milnes, Stark County (Treasurer runner-up)

Link to more pictures.

Monday, April 16, 2018

OHIO YAB Video Shoot

Jewel Harris did a wonderful job.

Link to more photos.

Kyajah Rodriguez's federal testimony on the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Link to more photos

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

United States House of Representatives
House Committee on Financial Services
Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance

Proponent testimony on the Amended Version of H.R. 2069, the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act

Chairman Duffy, Vice Chairman Ross, Ranking Member Cleaver, and members of the committee,

Thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on the amended version of H.R. 2069, the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act.

My name is Ky Rodriguez, I was put in the foster care system the summer just before my freshman year of high school. I am now a senior at Fort Hayes High School where I am President of the Student Activities Council, Treasurer of the Senior Class Council, member of the National Honors Society, Leader of our Mock Trial team, and an author published by The Ohio State University.

Throughout my trying experience in foster care, I’ve eagerly taken advantage of every opportunity that crossed my path. However, as I near graduation, all my years of hard work are at a terrifying risk of going to waste because of my vulnerability to homelessness.

When underprivileged youth are orphaned by circumstances out of their control, the foster care system steps in and fills that parental absence. The system becomes our caretaker, provider, and the closest thing to a parent many of us have ever known.

However, unlike other children whose parental system allows them a gradual, guided, and forgiving
transition into adulthood; we are cut off at the unripe age of 18 and forced to make an abrupt transition into adulthood as vulnerable and unequipped youth. Our success is unlikely, and our alternatives are dangerous.

The Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act would correct this and provide children with
a safety net we desperately need by preventing the years of homelessness that come as package deal with the federal housing assistance waitlist. This would dramatically shrink the homeless population as whole because we make up such a large portion of it. By prioritizing us before we become homeless, you’d turn off the faucet before drawing water from the bottom of an overflowing bucket.

This bill is one way of supporting orphaned youth in our transition into adulthood just how a parent would their own child. It is responsible federal parenting. Sure, it won’t prevent every child exiting foster care from becoming homeless but it’s practical under our circumstances. Homelessness and the horrors that come with it are an imminent danger and this bill is what we can​ do right now to stop it.

Please support us in our strive to disrupt a cycle that leaves kids exiting foster care underserved, undersupported, and eventually homeless.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Siblings Rights #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs

Ohio foster care youth and alumni recently shared their insights during an Interested Parties Meeting facilitated by Representatives LaTourette and Boyd regarding HB 448: Sibling Rights to Connection.

Participating experts, via lived experience, were:
1.) Jewel Harris
2.) Julius Kissinger
3.) Jerri Braswell
4.) Amanda Davis

Panel Moderator: Rep. LaTourette asked the following questions:
1.) Name, age, and whether or not you were placed with your siblings during your time in foster care/adoption
2.) One of the things this bill would do is to expand the definition of siblings. For those who experience foster care, the definition of sibling is often more broad. Do you have any personal examples of this?
3.) This bill strengthens the wording requiring child welfare agencies to place siblings together when possible and maintain frequent contact when siblings are not placed together. When you were in foster care did you ever go long stretches of time without seeing your siblings? How long? Were you told why?
4.) How would things have been different for you if you were not separated from your sibling(s)? What do you feel could have been done differently? Did your agency/county support or help you when asked about sibling visitation/contact?
5.) Explain in your own words how it feels to be separated from, and out of contact with, a sibling. How does this impact your/their Safety, Permanence and Well Being? (the three areas that the federal government measures child welfare on)

Insights shared included the following:

  • Siblings are a core part of who we are. It's not "normal" (aka: Normalcy) to be separated from siblings. This loss can make a young person feel isolated - lost and alone in a great big and uncaring world where all they can do is sink or swim.
  • Being disconnected from siblings is a traumatic loss that should be taken seriously, and it should be included when it comes to the mandates of a young person's individual service plan.
  • Outcomes matter - and being disconnected from siblings can and does impact interpersonal relationships as an adult.
  • If a young person experiences abuse in an out-of-home (or bio) placement, and has siblings to support them in that moment, this can be a major protective factor in empowering that young person to share what happened, and for them to stand together in demanding to be removed from that placement. But without sibling support, a child or teen can feel incredibly alone.
  • For those who wish they could have been there to protect their siblings, but were separated from them, trying to build a relationship later in life is painfully difficult. It is tough to prove that you are a safe person to a younger sibling who hasn't seen you in years, and who has had painful experiences during which you weren't there to help. Especially when you wish you were there, but had no choice when it came to not being able to be there to protect them.
  • Truly caring about the immediate needs and long-term success of Ohio foster care youth and young adults means moving beyond clinical descriptions of carefully chosen case files gone well. It means listening to the youth themselves about what they long for, and what they need. In most cases, they don't ask much - literally, the greatest ask I've heard lately was a young person whose Children Services agency is within a couple blocks of her high school -- and all she wanted was for her caseworker to consider meeting her at her high school, giving her a ride home, and just listening to her during the drive.

2018 ODJFS All Staff Meeting ~ Youth Panel

The OHIO Youth Advisory Board had the honor of presenting during the ODJFS All Staff Meeting on Thursday, March 29, 2018.

Officers-in-Training Jewel Harris (Allen County) and Samantha Dillon (Athens County) talked about:

1.) Youth voice in Ohio’s implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (which was passed and signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act on February 9, 2018), such as:
  • Extending Chafee eligibility until age 23
  • Extending ETV eligibility until age 26
  • Recruiting more high quality foster homes, especially foster parents for teens and host homes for young adults
  • Requiring groups homes and residential placements to be Qualified Residential Treatment Programs in order to be eligible for Title IV-E foster care maintenance payments (trauma-informed, nursing standards, inspections and monitoring) 
2.) Top youth concerns from the last statewide OHIO Youth YAB meeting were shared, including:
  • Desire for one-on-one time with caseworker, and knowing the chain of command/next person to contact if unable to reach their caseworker directly
  • Youth voice in the development of plans for their future (including roundtables and SARs)
  • Youth voice in court - including sibling contact, decisions about visitation, and plans for reunification
  • Normalcy (especially in group home settings)
3.) Appreciation for ODJFS support:
  • Thanking ODJFS for updating Youth Rights Handbook
  • Thanking ODJFS for being willing to update communication regarding NYTD to make the message more youth-friendly and explain why the questions are being asked, and to follow up with a list of resources 
  • Appreciation for Bridges (with a special message from former OHIO YAB President Gabriel Young)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Appreciation for Dorothy Striker

Dorothy Striker was an awesome inclusion to our January OHIO Youth Advisory Board meeting.

She's part of the ODJFS Office for Families and Children's Child Protective Services (CPS) Section - which is responsible for Ohio’s child protection policy framework, including everything from screening child abuse and neglect referrals through reunification and/or case closure.

Here are some of the things that her department is responsible for:

  • Maintaining Ohio’s child protection policies, which guide PCSAs in their response to child abuse, neglect and dependency referrals
  • Maintaining Ohio’s Comprehensive Assessment and Planning Model (CAPMIS), which guides the casework process
  • Providing consultation and training to PCSAs
  • Acting as a liaison to other areas of OFC, other state agencies, local agencies, elected officials, and professional and community organizations to promote performance standards and coordinated service delivery to Ohio’s children and families
  • Overseeing and administering SACWIS search requests
  • Maintaining the Putative Father Registry

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 OHIO YAB Policy Retreat

*Link to photos

Ice and snow greatly impeded youth participation for yesterday's OHIO YAB Retreat. So we focused on listening to, supporting and empowering the youth who were able to be there.

One of them is going to meet with legislators on Tuesday about the Ohio Sibling Visitation Bill. Ida Yarngo spent part of her time at the Retreat preparing to share before legislators why sibling visitation is so very important.

She shared that when she came to the United States from Liberia, and everyone and everything that she had ever known was now literally a continent away. And the one familiar comfort to her was her brother. And then she lost that.

She said, "I shouldn't be fighting this battle myself."

Ida is eager to meet the legislators who are championing this legislation, and thank them for fighting alongside of her to improve policy regarding this important issue.

Another is preparing to give legislative testimony about why police should be mandated reporters. Sabrina was adopted into an abusive home. If the police officers who visited the house had been mandated reporters, and had notified children services about what was going on, she would have been safeguarded from additional abuse.