Saturday, November 9, 2019

Senate version of Fostering Stable Opportunities Act is introduced

The Senate version of the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act was introduced this week by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Senator Grassley is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Brown serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

The bill was introduced with no changes. The wording of this bill has been honed by foster youth for years, and they wanted to maintain its integrity.

1. Press Release
2. Thank you letter to Senator Brown
3. Thank you letter to Senator Grassley
4. Proponent testimony by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Roman receives Rising Up and Moving On Award during 2019 PCSAO Conference

Roman Sandhu serves as Vice President for the Overcoming Hurdles In Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. 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.

As a youth advocate, Roman has traveled to Washington, D.C. twice to represent his fellow foster youth. In 2018, the OHIO YAB was honored to be nominated by Senator Rob Portman as his 2018 Angels in Adoption® Honoree. In 2019, Roman participated in Three Days on the Hill, an annual trip facilitated by ACTION Ohio to provide foster care youth and alumni with opportunities to further their leadership development. He participated in a meeting with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and helped facilitate a federal briefing.

During both of his trips to DC, Roman advocated for the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. The concepts contained in the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act have been written and refined over six years by foster care youth and alumni, with the goal of bridging
the gap between foster care and housing stability, and building a platform for self sufficiency. Roman also spoke with federal legislators about the Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, which would make transition-age foster youth one of the populations that are targeted by the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and incentivize employers to hire transition-age foster youth.

 As an OHIO YAB Officer, Roman has exemplified the guidelines of the OHIO YAB Code of Conduct. He has helped facilitate youth brainstorming sessions during statewide meetings of the OHIO YAB. Roman always comes to meetings prepared. He participates in OHIO YAB Officers calls, and has worked tirelessly on the budget for the statewide board.

Roman has recently graduated high school and started college. We are proud of him for all that he has accomplished, and we believe in his ability to continue to do great things in the future. It is always a pleasure to stand side-by-side with Roman, with the goal of improving outcomes for his fellow foster care youth.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Op Ed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Young people enter our foster care system for many different reasons, but too many share a common story once they age out: They don’t have a stable home of their own.

One of our recent “Humans of HUD” spotlights here at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development features Adora, a young lady who was just a teenager when her mother died and her father returned to his home country. For Adora and her siblings, America was the only home they knew. But without their parents, they entered the foster care system and were shuffled from place to place. Imagine growing older and aging out of foster care, alone, without a home or any of the support young people need to set out on their own path. 

Each year, there are more than 20,000 young people with stories like Adora’s who age out of foster care. Shockingly, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare estimates that 25% of these young people will experience homelessness within four years. 

Recently, it was my personal and professional point of pride to announce a brand new initiative: Foster Youth to Independence, a collaborative effort to combat homelessness among at-risk youth by targeting housing assistance to young people leaving foster care. HUD’s new program allows local public housing authorities to request tenant protection vouchers for young adults who have recently left foster care without a home to go to.

It is complementary to FUP, our Family Unification Program, and has three main goals:

 ▪ It will address the lack of availability of housing vouchers to young people in communities without access to FUP resources. 

 ▪ It will prioritize resources to our nation’s at-risk youth. Currently, young people encounter significant barriers to accessing affordable housing resources, including the FUP program. For example, local welfare authorities often prioritize families at risk of homelessness over single, young adults. This contributes to the fact that early-age populations make up only about 5% of FUP housing voucher recipients.

 ▪ This program will further HUD’s goal of ending homelessness. No person should experience homelessness. Not only will this initiative provide foster youth with housing, but it will also provide them with the tools they need to become self-sufficient through supportive services they can access for up to three years. 

Stable housing lays the foundation for a stable family and, in turn, a stable life. This program will work with local authorities to direct housing assistance to the young people who need it most. For too long, foster youth have been forgotten when it comes to affordable housing. HUD is committed to changing that.  

I am proud of HUD’s many efforts to help set forgotten Americans onto a path to self-sufficiency. No matter the obstacles, no matter how difficult the beginnings, anyone can rise to their potential in the land of the free. And at HUD, we are committed to making that dream a reality for all of America’s vulnerable — our young people included.

~ Ben Carson is secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Housing Vouchers After Foster Care

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.).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Second Ohio Medicaid Meeting

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Link to more photos.

We were honored to participate in our second meeting with the Ohio Medicaid Director's Office.

Participants included:

  • Vice President Samantha Dillon of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board 
  • Lisa Dickson of ACTION Ohio and the OHIO Youth Advisory Board 
  • Nicole Chinn of ACTION Ohio and the CSCC Scholar Network 
  • Cloe Cooper, Katrina de los Santos and Brett Welsch of the CSCC Scholar Network 
  • Sonja Nelson, Alex Romstedt, Drew May and Bethany Hahn of CMHA 

Our meeting focused on:

  1. Ohio Medicaid's continued efforts and dedication to overcome access barriers for foster care youth and alumni 
  2. Concerns about a specific residential facility 
  3. Updates regarding our work to map out a service coordination model and the division of tasks between Service Coordinator and the two RA/Peer Advisors for Scholar House 3

Sunday, June 16, 2019

OHIO YAB Letters of Support

Ohio foster care youth will receive further opportunities to share their insights about both of these bills during the July 2019 OHIO YAB statewide quarterly meeting:

1.) Letter of Support for Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act of 2019 (S.789)

2.) Letter of Support for Fostering Success in Higher Education Act (S. 1650)

These two Acts complement one another, and if both of them are passed into federal law, this will lead to better post-secondary outcomes for foster and homeless youth:

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Scholar House III... the work continues!

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Deeply grateful for the ongoing commitment of CMHA to bring Scholar House 3 from vision to reality.

Link to more photos.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019 Ohio Family Care Association Conference

Link to more photos.

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...

  1. The need for teachers to be trauma-informed and foster-informed
  2. Untapped opportunities for foster youth attending the same high school to be connected with one another for study groups and peer support. 
  3. The risk of lost credits. 
  4. The vital importance of connecting with a supportive teacher. 
  5. Reminder about Ohio Reach.

Foster Parents:

  1. 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.
  2. Don't judge a kid by their case file; start with trust until trust is take away.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. Take time for self-care. Don't take things personally -- recognize that youth behavior often comes from trauma.  
  1. 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.
  2. When asking questions about my past, please remember that this can trigger emotions (including pain and guilt) and feel like an interrogation.  
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.

Friday, May 17, 2019

2019 Meeting with Director of Child Welfare Transformation

Link to more photos.

Today's meeting with Director of the Office of Foster Care Transformation Kristi Burre focused on three topics:

1. ) Establishing a statewide foster care Ombudsman Office, and the importance of including foster youth voice and input on the process of designing this resource.

2.) Normalcy training and safety requirements for group homes and residential placements.

3.) Appreciation for the statewide Fostering Pathways to Success Conference, and desire to include foster care youth and alumni voice in future conference planning.

Friday, April 19, 2019

2019 Ohio Medicaid Director Meeting

Link to more photos.

We were honored to meet with Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran on Friday, April 19, 2019.

Participants included:
  • 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:
  1. Barriers to Medicaid access for former foster youth, and proposed solutions to address this perennial problem
  2. 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.

Friday, April 5, 2019

2019 Pathways conference

Link to more photos.

Quotes from youth evaluations of the OHIO YAB workshop:

Normalcy, especially in Group Homes and Residential Placements

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During the 2019 statewide conference for foster youth, the OHIO Youth Advisory Board led a morning workshop and facilitated an afternoon table.

 The OHIO YAB invited each and every youth participant to share the concerns that matter most to them, and to have a voice when it comes to OHIO YAB advocacy priorities in 2020

 The #1 issue that has come up, over and over again is: “Normalcy, especially in group homes and residential placements.”

Here are some direct quotes from what youth shared in writing during the 2019 Pathways conference: 
  •  Group homes should be used as a last resort 
  • They aren’t good for certain kids. 
  • I think group homes are not good because of the many limits of what you are allowed to do. 
  • I think residential placements are worse because they can be very unsafe. Need more cameras. 
  • I don’t like being in group homes. We don’t get freedom. Need more cameras in the rooms to keep us safe. 
  • Staff members aren’t trained on how to de-escalate conflict 
  • Without normalcy, group homes feel like jail because we have no freedom. 
  • When it comes to civil freedoms, it’s not normal to have to earn them 
  • Too many limits that make kids feel different 
  • Too many limits because of past experience 
  • Feeling normal is very hard 
  • Shouldn’t feel like a jail. 
  • Youth clients in residential should be able to have as much freedom as they can, instead of being locked in all day. 
  • Residents should be able to have as much normalcy as possible. 
  • Some group homes are way too hard on the kids. 
  • Need more normalcy and equality. 
  • Not allowed cell phones 
  • Equality: it’s not our fault for being in this situation. Please stop the dehumanization of foster youth. 
  • They should focus more on each individual. 
  • Too many limits. Also saying, “No,” because of what someone did before 
  • They should provide better preparation for adulthood. They don’t do it enough or go over it. 
  • Please listen to us more 
  • I feel they should support more of our thoughts and feelings 
  • Please give us normalcy and remember that we are people too 
  • Please support and understand our efforts to build a future 
  • Providing normalcy makes our time in foster care easier, when and if it happens 
  • Being able to see family: 1 month waiting period 
  • Having to earn visitation with family 
  • Having to earn trust to be able to see family on birthday 
  • It hurts going to school and not having the same freedoms. 
  • I think we should have the right to a phone. 
  • Wanted to go to church and they required photo IDs etc for us to go 
  • Feeling confined, voiceless, no one listening to concerns 
  • No favoritism. Staff should not bully youth. 
  • Need more cameras to keep us safe, due to bullying and abuse that happens (multiple youth listed and asked for this)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Updated OHIO YAB Youth Rights Handbook

The new version of the OHIO YAB Youth Rights Handbook has been released.

Copies are being distributed by ODJFS to all Ohio foster youth, ages 14+

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

2019 Meeting with the Governor's Office

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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:
  1. Introductions and well-deserved congratulations to LeeAnne Cornyn
  2. 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
  3. Creating a statewide Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office
  4. Reforming Ohio child welfare funding
  5. Establishing an ongoing communications mechanism to stay in touch and keep working together

Thursday, January 17, 2019

2019 January OHIO YAB Meeting

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During the 2019 January Statewide Quarterly Meeting, OHIO YAB Founding Member
Kierra Williams shared creative hands-on Leadership Skill Building Activities.

She also facilitated the breakout session on Strategic Sharing.

The OHIO YAB agenda also included:
  1. Updates on how the Sibling Bill is progressing on a statewide level.
  2. Next steps regarding federal advocacy to end the Foster Care to Homeless Pipeline.
  3. Providing printed copies of a draft Toolkit to support county and regional Youth Advisory Boards for participants to field-test in in their area.
  4. Additional break-out sessions on Bridges, Mind Matters, and Ohio CASA's upcoming new webpage for foster youth.
  5. 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.